This is What Happens When You Teach an AI to Name Guinea Pigs

By Rae Paoletta on at

As literally every sci-fi movie has predicted, we’re becoming increasingly reliant on artificial intelligence. AI can already compose music, play Ms. Pac-Man—like a pro, nonetheless—and even manage a hotel. But it’s never been used solely for the purpose of naming small, fluffy guinea pigs—until now.

Earlier this week, research scientist Janelle Shane got a fantastically unusual request from the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue, asking if she could build a neural network for guinea pig names. The rescue facility needs to generate a large number of names quickly, as they frequently take in animals from hoarding situations. Portland Guinea Pig Rescue gave Shane a list of classic names, like “Snickers” or “Pumpkin,” in addition to just about every other name they could find on the internet. The rest is history.

“I used Andrej Karpathy’s char-rnn, an open-source neural network framework for torch (written in Lua),” Shane told Gizmodo. “I gave the neural network the list of 600+ guinea pig names that the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue assembled for me, and let it train itself to produce more names like the ones on its list. It gradually formed its own internal rules about which letters and letter combinations are the most quintessentially guinea pig.”

It took Shane just a few minutes to train the system. “I had to tweak some of the training parameters to get the right mix of creativity versus keeping in line with the original dataset,” she explained. “Too loose a fit and they didn’t sound like guinea pigs; too tight a fit and the neural network would only copy names verbatim from the training data.”

Behold the newly named floofs, in all their glory:

All images: Portland Guinea Pig Rescue


And of course, my favourite:

Overall, Shane’s AI did a damn good job. Some of its cutest names were “Splanky,” “Gooper,” and “Spockers.” There were a few hilarious missteps, too — “Butty Brlomy,” “Boooy,” and “Bho8otteeddeeceul” were the best of the worst.

“I am a big fan of Fufby and Fuzzable and Snifkin, partially because they’re so quintessentially guinea pig,” Shane said. “The neural network really picked up the spirit of the guinea pig names.”

You can—and should—check out all the adoptable guinea pigs here, via Portland Guinea Pig Rescue.

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