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SkyKnit: When knitters teamed up with a neural network

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I love a good knitting project. These wonderful patterns are via AIweirdness

I use algorithms called neural networks to write humor. What’s fun about neural networks is they learn by example – give them a bunch of some sort of data, and they’ll try to figure out rules that let them imitate it. They power corporate finances, recognize faces, translate text, and more. I, however, like to give them silly datasets. I’ve trained neural networks to generate new paint colors, new Halloween costumes, and new candy heart messages. When the problem is tough, the results are mixed (there was that one candy heart that just said HOLE).

One of the toughest problems I’ve ever tried? Knitting patterns.

I knew almost nothing about knitting when sent me the suggestion one day. She sent me to the Ravelry knitting site, and to its adults-only, often-indecorous LSG forum, who as you will see are amazing people. (When asked how I should describe them, one wrote “don’t forget the glitter and swearing!”)

And so, we embarked upon Operation Hilarious Knitting Disaster.

The knitters helped me crowdsource a dataset of 500 knitting patterns, ranging from hats to squids to unmentionables. JC Briar exported another 4728 patterns from the site

I gave the knitting patterns to a couple of neural networks that I collectively named “SkyKnit”. Then, not knowing if they had produced anything remotely knittable, I started posting the patterns. Here’s an early example.

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MrsNoddyNoddy wrote, “it’s difficult to explain why 6395, 71, 70, 77 is so asthma-inducingly funny.” (It seems that a 6000-plus stitch count is, as GloriaHanlon put it, “optimism”).

As training progressed, and as I tried some higher-performance models, SkyKnit improved.

Even at its best, SkyKnit had problems. It would sometimes repeat rows, or leave them out entirely. It could count rows fairly reliably up to about 22, but after that would start haphazardly guessing random largish numbers. SkyKnit also had trouble counting stitches, and would confidently declare at the end of certain lines that it contained 12 stitches when it was nothing of the sort.

But the knitters began knitting them. This possibly marks one of the few times in history when a computer generated code to be executed by humans.

See more patterns and pictures!

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