Neural Network IDs Objects in the Star Trek: TNG Credits

YouTube / Ville-Matias Heikkilä
YouTube / Ville-Matias Heikkilä / YouTube / Ville-Matias Heikkilä

The Star Trek: The Next Generation opening credits show various stuff in space: a nebula, a star, a comet, various planets, and the starship Enterprise—you know, your typical space visuals. But what does a computer see when it watches this sequence? Programmer/artist Ville-Matias Heikkilä deployed a neural network to find out.

The results are hilariously weird. The neural network outputs its guesses in a top-three format, with one starred as the current winner. Early in the sequence, the network guesses: "matchstick, volcano, candle" when looking at the bright center of the Milky Way (pretty good!), but a closeup of a rocky planet gives us "dough, mortar, frying pan." When the Enterprise shows up, the network goes through a long process of refining its guesses, but at first shoots for "CD player, stove, digital clock" (seen from the front). When the ship passes by the camera and a side view fills the screen, some of the guesses are actually pretty solid: "submarine, aircraft carrier, ocean liner." Those are perfectly reasonable Earthlike analogues for the ship! And then of course, the Enterprise turns to go into warp and briefly becomes "crash helmet, computer mouse, remote control." Oh well.

Enjoy today's installment of "computers can be dumb." (Note that there is no sound, though you can probably fill it in yourself!)

Heikkilä notes in the video's description that the neural network simply hasn't seen space objects before: "There isn't a lot of space stuff" in the dataset it normally sees, so it has no visual context. One fun item that it thinks is in space is a "plectrum," which guitars players would call a pick. Of course, according to the neural network, most of space is infested with roundworms.

[h/t: Kottke.]