When a Billion Years Disappeared

That Time It Rained for Two Million Years

When Giant Scorpions Swarmed the Seas

One thing I like about the PBS Eons show is its epic headlines. Not least because they aren’t actually overdramatic. It was technically 1.2 billion years of Earth’s history that disappeared in the Great Unconformity. It rained so hard for so long that a bunch of stuff went extinct. The giant sea scorpions could grow to 2.5 m long.

So, what might the next billion years of Earth’s history hold?

I decided to use the completely scientific technique of giving a list of PBS Eons episode titles to GPT-3, a neural network whose task is to predict new text that goes with whatever came before. Here are some of the neural net’s predicted episodes in Earth’s history/future:

When the World Was Made of Jelly
How the Moon Took Back the Sea
When Whales Ruled the Skies
How a Single Species of Moth Almost Destroyed the Entire Human Race
That Time the Earth Almost Turned Into a Giant Pufferfish
How Spiders Conquered the Seas
How a Soda Can Could Have Killed the Dinosaurs
When the Earth Was a Puddle
When We Almost Always Had Butterflies
How a Cat Almost Destroyed the World's Largest Continent
How the Biggest Snake Ever Almost Ate the World's Biggest Croc
How the World Almost Had a Binary Sun
The Island of Swords

I sampled these episodes at a temperature setting of 0.8, which governs how often the neural network is allowed to use lower probability text. The higher the temperature setting, the higher the chaos. But it turns out chaos doesn't necessarily make the output weirder, just different from the prediction. In early neural nets that meant different from the English they had been trained on, toward more erratic spelling and punctuation. In GPT-3 chaos seems to mean more toward other text that it saw on the internet - and when your starting point is very weird, moving in any other direction might make the output LESS weird. That's mostly what I found at the highest temperature setting of 1.0, although there were a few notable exceptions:

When Salmon Grew Swords and Tried to Take Over the World
How Darth Vader Helped with the Founding of America
That Time a Mutant Super Robin Nearly Wiped Out England
The Vegetarian Dinosaurs Who Refused to Die
When the Biggest Terrible Prehistoric Thing Glared Down at Earth
Hilda Doolittle and the Potteries That Await Us
It's Not Easy With Floofs on the Moon
Triceratops and Little-known Fact About Giraffes
Megahippus Rode Saber-Toothed Cat Elevator
That Time Giant Hungry Sharks Exploded Through Florida

I was also rather fond of the headlines that SOUND epic, yet actually aren’t all that unusual once you think about them. One major source of this effect is the fact that birds are technically a kind of dinosaur.

That Time Humans Chased Down and Ate a Dinosaur
When Crabs Got as Big as Dinosaurs
That Time A Spider Hunted Dinosaurs
How the World's Drunkest Animal Changed the Weather
The Unkillable Rock

Bonus: some output from temperature setting 0.8, which produced such gems as “How a Blue Whale's Farts Changed the World”. Become a supporter of AI Weirdness to get them as bonus content!

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