A neural net tries writing Burma-Shave jingles
2 min read

A neural net tries writing Burma-Shave jingles

A neural net tries writing Burma-Shave jingles

Will machine learning algorithms be writing commercials soon?

A familiar sight on US roads from 1926-1963 were a series of red billboards advertising Burma-Shave. Each billboard would contain a snippet of a jingle, and the last one always read “Burma-Shave”. There were about 600 different messages printed over the years, and Orion Sauter collected them for me to feed to a neural network. Here’s an example of a real one:

I’d heard it praised
By drug store clerks
I tried the stuff
Hot dog! it works
Burma-Shave

A neural network is a type of machine learning algorithm that learns to imitate the text it sees. The most effective neural networks - the ones that deliver ads or manage finances or translate languages - usually have huge datasets to learn from. 600 Burma-Shave jingles is a pitifully small dataset, as it turns out. I tried two different neural network frameworks: a character-level rnn from Google’s Seedbank (which you can try yourself in the browser without any coding or GPU required) and a much harder-to-install torch-based rnn that uses syllables as its building blocks.

Both, um, struggled.

Syllable-rnn:

shavery more
tube look
still wrong
in’s brush the is
burma-shave

Character-rnn:

The cream
That’s in it
The cream
One hears
The last strong
Burma-Shave
image

Rhymes were usually missing. They were full of bizarre non-sequiturs. They did, at least, always remember to end with “Burma-Shave”.

Syllable-rnn:

with’s the cow
man mike
to they day
his not her shave
burma-shave

the chin
a what
you’s span
your toast
burma-shave

Character-rnn:

If hangers
With a have
With the hair
What hat hoop
Burma-Shave
At every substitute
It’s a good
Old Sastadong
Half a pound
For face the place
Where they don’t sell
Burma-Shave
image

Occasionally a rhyme would appear, likely by accident.

Syllable-rnn:

no more dust
the chap in car
for any lone
now shave behind
can’s a bazaar
they zor these mile
burma-shave

Character-rnn:

The cream
That’s a gift
He’s a wolf
With hair
On the lith
Burma-Shave

The future of advertising, ladies and gentlemen.

Syllable-rnn:

if you have
gone sky lady
burma-shave
you you think
you brush
no dob
you’ll to brush
is forced
to beard
burma-shave

Character-rnn:

Best car
The ladies
Take it
Their face
In your chin
Burma-Shave
His beard
So dar
It spreads
To cranch
In the raam
Burma-Shave
When you should
Whiskers
Scratchy chin
Who will
Save your dripply pound
For a fart
The rough
Who signs
To razor can
Burma-Shave
image

It learns
It writes
But do not fret
AI can’t take
Your ad job yet
Burma-Shave

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