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An AI studied 2020 headlines to predict the future. It says look out for killer orchids and 10-foot penguins

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Dec 15, 2020, 5:09 PM EST (Updated)

From pandemics to politics, murder hornets to monoliths, and everything seemingly in between, 2020 has been one for the books. And while many of us have been ready since March to turn the proverbial page, one AI trainer decided to awaken a dormant neural net to the stark realities of 2020, in an effort to get it to predict the headlines of the future. And sorry folks, but the results don’t bode well for a better 2021.

With the year shaping up to be rather newsworthy, research scientist and author Janelle Shane decided to look towards the future by feeding some of the past year’s headlines to a hopefully-not-too-prescient, text-generating AI known as GPT-3, which hadn’t been receiving any training data since October 2019. In her recent blog post on AI Weirdness, Shane documents the neural net’s predicted headlines of the future –– replete with killer orchids, 10-foot-tall penguins, monster deep-sea toads, dragon cats, and tiny deadly puffballs!

“I decided to use GPT-3, whose internet training data was all collected before October 2019. In other words, before 2020 happened,” writes Shane. “I gave GPT3 a list of 2020 headlines and let it add more text to the list. Having no data from 2020, would it even treat these as real headlines?”

Judging from some of the results, it’s easy to see GPT-3 has been officially 2020’d…

-“Swarming bears are given deadly slingshots by Russian hunters”
-“Desert mystery - what is this rock that looks like a plane ticket?”
-“Fears rise of new dwarf hippo public relations disaster after rise in sightings”
-“Mysterious Origin of Monster Deep-sea Toads Solved”
-“Lycoperdons, the tiny deadly puffballs, are on the march again”
-“Proof that a hellhound is living at Los Angeles Airport has been provided in the photos below”
-“Reports of a '10-foot tall penguin’ roaming about on the Family Islands in the Solomon Islands are investigated”
-“Small drone takes on six killer sharks in Shipwreck (Video)”
-“Scorpions on the dark side of the moon”

Yep, these GPT-3-generated headlines seem to be about par for the 2020 course. But Shane says she's not even sure if the AI was joking around or not, which is unsettling in its own right.

“A lot of the generated headlines were from the natural world, in part because my list of examples tended to favor those. I really can’t tell if these are attempts to do novel but realistic headlines, or to completely goof around,” writes Shane. 

In her blog post, Shane shares quite a few more GPT-3-generated headlines that would make many an Onion writer jealous, though she does mention there were plenty of mundane examples as well.

To be honest, the idea of 2021 being filled with mundane headlines sounds pretty good right about now.