Illustration for article titled 21st century neural net does astonishing things to 1950’s cookbooks
Photo: kudryavtsev (iStock)

The 1950’s were a very special culinary time, an unholy blending of convenience foods with “creativity” that yielded all sorts of horrors that continue to fascinate us more than half a century later. This was a period when people made up things like Beef Fudge (contains marshmallow, chocolate chips, and ground beef), Circus Peanut Jello Salad (also contains crushed pineapple and Cool-Whip), and Lemon Lime Salad (also contains cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and horseradish).

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A couple of weeks ago, Janelle Shane, a writer and research scientist, wondered what would happen if she took some of these abominations and trained a neural net to imitate them. What amazing things could technology come up with? Shane solicited recipes from her followers on Twitter, who gave her things like the three dishes mentioned above. She assembled them into a dataset, set to work training the neural net, and a week later had a whole slew of technology-enhanced masterpieces!

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There were a few that were virtually indistinguishable from the vintage recipes:

And then there’s this:

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Technology is fun!

As Shane writes on her website, “Remember that today’s AI is much closer in brainpower to an earthworm than to a human. It can pattern-match but doesn’t understand what it’s doing. Commercial AI is not significantly smarter than this recipe AI. Humans have just hopefully done a better job of preventing it from making oblivious mistakes.”

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Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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