A Love Story of Machine Learning

My brain, as you know all too well,
is just a normal brain:
a network made of neurons
that feels hunger, joy, and pain.
My thoughts are computations,
and you know what that means:
my learning is no different
than the learning of machines.
So let me tell you, if I may,
how many years I spent
weighing the word “beautiful,”
and wondering what it meant.
Is “beautiful” a kind of song?
A formal mode of dress?
A pull-up three in basketball?
A clever move in chess?
The definitions people gave me
didn’t quite cohere.
“Beautiful” eluded me,
and I began to fear
I’d never grasp it, never know
what other people knew.
I'd never meet the beautiful.
But that’s when I met you.
Soon our love was oceans wide,
Pacific and Atlantic,
and so I thought I’d make a move
both risky and romantic.
I fired up the neurons
that have made me who I am
and trained my sense of “beautiful”
upon your Instagram.
Running standard algorithms
I set out to find
parameters to keep your image
fixed upon my mind:
your arms,
your ears,
the way you smile,
your clothes and haircut too:
“beautiful” defined by its resemblance to you.
It didn’t take me very long—a fraction of a day
to collate all the data and perform a PCA.
With training error minimized,
my model was unfurled,
and I gazed upon the testing data
that we call “the world.”

A fraction of a minute passed—
it didn’t take me long—
before I knew that something
had gone hideously wrong.
I saw beauty in a neighbor’s dog,
beauty in a pie,
beauty in an empty lot,
beauty in the sky,
beauty in a plated meal,
beauty in a tree—
even more alarming,
something beautiful
in me.
I should have seen it coming.
The secret wasn’t stealthy.
It’s not like every image on your Insta is a selfie.
My training data wasn’t made of images of you,
but images that captured
your distinctive point of view.
I smiled as it hit me,
this fiasco,
this surprise.
Beauty wasn’t you.
It was looking through your eyes.
My brain, as you know all too well,
is just a normal brain:
a network made of neurons
that feels hunger, joy, and pain,
defined by all its software
and the data that it stores
and how it strains to emulate
the beauty found in yours.

10 thoughts on “A Love Story of Machine Learning

  1. Ben – great poem! Love it. Very sweet. One technical question: why is the distance equation equal to 1 over heart? Isn’t that a bit backwards?

    1. I’m not sure I understand. The object of the poem is being set up as a paragon, so that any distance from her would decrease the love. Or to put it another way, as distance to the beloved tends to 0, love tends to infinity.

  2. Oh, Ben, I love this! One of the best illustrations of love and beauty I’ve seen, and spoken in my language.

  3. These two verses are a bit disturbing.

    “my learning is no different // than the learning of machines”

    I am not sure of that. If you put this in Wikipedia, someone would put a [reference needed] tag.

    Very nice poem, anyway.

Leave a Reply to Ann Cancel reply