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This AI is better at naming Burning Man camps than actual Burners

Welcome to camp Dirty Chris.

This AI is better at naming Burning Man camps than actual Burners
[Photo: Flickr user tommyk_421]

On August 26, more than 65,000 souls will descend upon Black Rock Desert, Nevada, to live for a week in the ephemeral desert city that hosts Burning Man. Inside, hundreds of camps distributed on its concentric streets will greet its temporary inhabitants with art, food, installations, and tons of poppycock. These themed camps, which are focused around one concept or activity, have blossomed since they first appeared at the event in 1993–in 2010, with attendance hitting 50,000, there were 700.

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These camps tend to be named absurd titles that reflect the spirit of the place, ranging from mildly amusing to resoundingly idiotic. For instance, this year will feature everything from “Appropriated Dragon Dim Sum” to “ZOBIN: A Brain Massage Experience.”

That made them a perfect target for Janelle Shane, the research scientist and lover of neural networks who has delighted the internet with her neural network experiments before (if you missed it, her AI-generated names for beer are not to be missed). Leading up to Burning Man 2018, the theme of which is artificial intelligence, Shane thought it would be a great idea to use a neural network to generate new camp names for this constellation of dusty nuts. She was right.

[Photo: Flickr user Ann Larie Valentine]

Let’s review some of the results, which very much mimic what you find at the real Burning Man. After training a neural network on all 1,593 camp names from Burning Man’s past, Shane’s software returned camps that sound reasonable–like Commotion Camp, Echo Storm, Astro Sparkin, Burper Camp, and the perfect Camp Cookies–to oddly ambiguous yet still believable, like Camp Bumps, Shadow Hunk, Lady Camp X Ma Space, Camp Star Sparkle Bar, and Punchopun.

Then there are weirder suggestions, where Shane writes she doesn’t “know what you’re going to find, but it’s going to be interesting.” Those include camps like Boo Down Whiskers, Mauli Honey Ski, Camp Dangerage Unicore, Murder Bull of Camp Kissuost, or the terrifyingly awesome-sounding Hellball Lounge. Finally, Shane put the weird dial all the way up to 11, resulting in names like Wheelsfitchers, Cohnie Stacefur Ass Chaos, Preletive Suckers, Gloundertuse Chew, and Bo Frost Cat of Star Majorpreways. Sure, they sound nonsensical. But they make roughly the same amount of sense as the real thing–like PlayaBears Present: BearBots! or Glowskull Asylum Int’l.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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