The names of American shopping malls are a carefully calculated combination of bland and grandiose. Even the plainest of strip malls will have a faded sign somewhere proclaiming it to be the “Westbrook Manor Shoppes at Town Center Mall” or something of that nature. What happens if a machine learning algorithm tries to imitate this?

Thanks to Keith Wezwick I had a dataset of 1,106 existing shopping malls - a smallish dataset but one with enough consistency that I thought a neural net might be able to get the hang of it. I gave the dataset to char-rnn, a type of character-level recurrent neural network. Unlike some other neural networks I’ve used, this one starts from scratch - when it has its first look at the dataset, its neurons are connected randomly, with no built-in knowledge of any other datasets or even of English.

After a few passes through the dataset, it has learned to use letters and spaces, and even has learned some of the most common words. You can probably tell these are supposed to be shopping centers. You can also probably tell that there’s something terribly wrong with them.

Rre Gostge
Toreson Shoppiol Trape Center
The Shopp Mall
Preen Center
CoKies Mall
Shoppin Stophend
8!oon Center
Wastfield Stopas Center
Lieemsoo ah Tre Stops Mall
Woller Vallery
Baspoon Towne Center
Cowpe Toeoe Center Lrnme Cherry Center Warleros Oewves Mall

(To find out what these malls looked like, I asked AttnGAN, an algorithm trained to generate an image to go with any phrase)

But after more training, the mall-naming algorithm got… a bit better. By the time it had looked through the list of malls about 13 times, it was reproducing some malls word-for-word. I didn’t really intend for it to plagiarize malls verbatim from its input data, but the problem is I had told it to produce more malls like the ones it saw, and as far as it’s concerned, a perfect solution is to copy them. (This problem is called overfitting, and shows up in all sorts of annoying ways in machine learning research.) It did produce original malls too, though, and its original malls were definitely noticeable as neural net creations.

Bointy Mall
Fall of Lruin Mall
Princer Mall
Gollfop Mall
East Bointy Mall
North Drain Mall
Town Center at Citylands
Galleria Shrps at Santa Mariatun
Outlets of the Source Mall
Peachdate Mall
Willowser Pork Mall
Mall of testland Mall

So the mall-generating neural net never quite got out of the “definitely not a real mall” territory. Could they get even more unsettling? The answer is, delightfully, yes. Here’s the output from a neural net (textgenrnn, this time), that was trained on the shopping mall dataset, but only after it was trained on transcripts from the spooky podcast Welcome to Night Vale. In Night Vale, every conspiracy theory is true, and deadly figures haunting the dog park, or mysterious glowing clouds, are just part of everyday life. Night Vale has a mall. It’s called “Night Vale Mall.” Seeing as it has in the past suffered outbreaks of deadly poison gas, even deadlier Valentine’s Day cards, and some kind of screaming vortex in the food court (and we don’t even know why East Night Vale Mall is now disused), it is just possible that Night Vale may be needing to name a new mall sometime in the near future. Perhaps one of these names will be suitable.

Burning Park Mall
Person Shell
The Shape
All Owl Mall
Square Mall
Complete store of Mall
The What is Mall Mall
Many Head Mall
Mall Glow Place
Chanting Place
South Unit Presence
This is Center Mall
Goodnight Mall
Mall Pill Press Office Blood Park Mall
Carlous Preferse was all danger the Shoppendatoland Burning Shaper Mall

For more unsettling shopping malls, as well as other bonus content, become an AI Weirdness supporter. It’s perfectly safe. Probably. Just stay away from the South Unit Presence.

Subscribe now

Subscribe now