I like a fun sock. The more random the design, the better. What kinds of novelty sock ideas would we get if we used AI as a creativity aid?

It turns out they aren't too novel unless the AI is glitchy.

I collected 14 examples of socks I liked, wrote up short descriptions, labeled the list as "List of 10 most unusual novelty sock patterns:" and then gave them to various neural networks as a list to complete.

Here are some completions I got from the Ada model of GPT-3, a text-generating model released in 2020. Ada can generate words and phrases, but can barely follow a prompt.

GPT-3 Ada (2020):

“Cruxx” Slurpees with a fish in an orange
“Fängche” with french fries on top of a pocket-full of ice cream
A shirt made out of a jello stick – it looks like a hamburger, but it’s not.
“A halved grapefruit!” with lollipops
Some kind of replica of The Lord of the Rings party balloon, with rainbow balls, pink hoses, and blood in tributes to the Great Hair String of Friendship
Over a million memory sticks made from stars
“Shocking in the head!” more brightly colored balloons

In my original prompt format I used quotes for text that was actually written on the sock, which means that Ada's lollipops sock has the words "a halved grapefruit" written on it. And the jello stick hamburger item is not a shirt, but a sock with a picture of the shirt on it. Unless Ada has completely lost the plot and is not even generating socks anymore, which frankly is likely.

Babbage is the next-largest GPT-3 model from 2020, and it is doing better at being socks, although many of its socks seem very tricky to illustrate.

GPT-3 Babbage (2020):

Robots posing with some butter
“Ink!” cats with pink blotches
Violins and Prawns
“Santa it is” with polar bears and elves in a sleigh
“Dreamy ghosts” ghosts with binoculars
“Rainbow Rap!” hot air balloons and boing! boing!
A twin-headed dragon jumps through a trap door
A potato upside down with superpowers
A day going on but no moon just like a horror movie

Slightly more coherent are the socks from the next-largest GPT-3 model, Curie.

GPT-3 Curie (2020)

The Statue of Liberty with a 3-sided pancake.
Orca whale jumping through a ring of socks.
Octopus holding lemons
“Turtle is Delighted” turtle with a backpack
A stampede with bulls and zebras
Pumpkin patch with cutouts of squirrels having a picnic
“Make a toast to the kachunkers” with a bear holding a glass of tomato juice
Grinning neutrinos with dirty fingers
“As above, so below” with cats on the moon
A lion eating a Space Shuttle
Hamsters skating down a rainbow

I should note that I'm only showing maybe 1/10 of the generated socks. Most of the socks made very little sense and were hard to visualize, and/or seemed vaguely offensive. Once the output included something that was political or violent or sexual, most of what came afterwards would also be unusable. It's as if any list that includes this kind of content once will include it again - which seems pretty consistent with what I know about the websites in its example data.

The largest GPT-3 model, DaVinci, exhibits a different failure mode:

GPT-3 DaVinci (2020):

Massive group of goats wearing party hats
Unicorn riding a rainbow
Flying hedgehog
Robotic bulldog
Ninjas and kittens
“Lmao!” a flatulent dog with a mustache
Googly eyed donuts wrapped in bacon
A set of eyes wearing suspenders and monocle
“Come on in! The water’s liquid!” – grumpy cat in red bathing suit
“I can Haz!” a sitting Trojan Horse
“Bark like doggone it!” dancing dogs on black background

They're novelty socks, but they're not very novel novelty socks. These are all mishmashed common trendy tropes, and it makes it look like it's trying much too hard.

The problem is that GPT-3's job is not to write something new - its job is to predict the internet text in its training data. And its training data of course is from the past. So when I ask it to generate the most unusual novelty socks that nobody's ever heard of, what I'm really doing is asking it to reproduce part of a website from the past, say, from 2015, that lists the hottest new novelty socks. And the better the AI can reproduce that, the more familiar its novelty socks will seem.

So, whenever one of these models is upgraded, it becomes less good at novelty socks. "Text-davinci-003", the updated 2022 version of GPT-3 DaVinci, not only repeats common T-shirt phrases (“Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn.”), but often remixes images that already appear on a lot of novelty socks.

GPT-3 DaVinci (2022)

Turtles with top hats
Donuts with little cats
Flying donuts in space
Paw Prints on Hearts
Giraffe with peanut butter and jelly sandwich
“Go bananas” with bananas wearing shirts
“The sky is the limit” with hot air balloons
“Do your best moustache impresion” with a cat mustache

I have even more trouble getting new sock ideas out of chatgpt, which OpenAI released in 2022 as a text generator designed to be more coherent and less likely to veer off into offensive content. Chatgpt's lists of socks seemed to converge on socks about alliterative animals.

Chatgpt (2022):

“Giraffe galore” with giraffes in top hats
“Sloth soiree” with sloths in tuxedos
“Panda pandemonium” with pandas in party hats
“Butterfly bliss” with butterfly wings and flowers
“Gopher grooves” with dancing gophers

Even when it specifically asked for anything but alliterative animals, I would get them. It would even start putting them in alphabetical order, and restricting itself to just ungulates. (Admittedly I would consider wearing these.)

“Zebra zest” with zebras in top hats and bow ties
“Antelope anarchy” with antelopes in party hats
“Deer dance” with deer in party hats
“Elk extravaganza” with elk in party hats
“Reindeer ruckus” with reindeer in party hats
“Caribou carnival” with caribou in party hats
“Gazelle groove” with gazelles in party hats
“Impala jam” with impalas in party hats
“Kudu karaoke” with kudus in party hats
“Nyala nightlife” with nyalas in party hats
“Oryx outing” with oryxes in party hats

If I phrased my request right, I could get something other than alliterative ungulates. But it is very much an early-2000s "wow, have you ever seen llamas on socks? lol i'm so random" sort of website vibe.

List of 10 most unusual novelty sock patterns:
Socks with cats playing piano
Socks with avocado pattern
Socks with flamingo print
Socks with sushi design
Socks with llama pattern
Socks with cactus print
Socks with banana design
Socks with panda bear pattern
Socks with watermelon print
Socks with hamburger design

If chatgpt's job is to imitate the old websites in its training data, and also do well in whatever additional "be a good question answerer" training it got, then this makes sense as the result. But it also makes chatgpt less useful to me. For a neural net to be good at generating new things, glitchiness is a good thing.

Bonus content: The 2020 GPT-3 DaVinci did produce some highly weird, highly difficult to illustrate socks, in addition to the somewhat predictable ones I included to make a point. I've collected some of them as bonus content!

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