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Can a Computer Make a Meme?

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How is language evolving on the internet? In this series on internet linguistics, Gretchen McCulloch breaks down the latest innovations in online communication.

There's something so delightfully human about memes. A few decades ago, no one would have predicted bizarre phenomena like LOLcat or doge. The best memes are satisfying in the way that a good joke is satisfying. Surely that's not something you can code into a computer, though a recent study by computational linguists William Yang Wang and Miaomiao Wen of Carnegie Mellon University tried to do just that. 

There were already researchers working on programing auto-generating descriptions of images, but that's not quite the same as generating meme-like image macros. First of all, not all images are suitable meme backgrounds. And even when they are, it's not enough to just describe the actual image itself—"white cat wearing bowtie sits at table" is not a meme-ish caption. Wang and Wen recognized that the key was that memes occur in genres or patterns to be followed.

Given a certain image, such as Scumbag Steve, Socially Awkward Penguin, or the Forever Alone face, the computer had to figure out which of thousands of possible captions would fit best. The first thing that the system would do was run the image through Google's reverse image search, which automatically assigns an image a few keywords based on similar images in its index. Those keywords were then used to search a list of 269,473 meme captions taken from memegenerator.net and cheezburger.com. Possible captions were ranked by comparing various features of the original image and the text, and the top-ranked caption was assigned to the image. So there is nothing new here—the computer just has to tie existing joke-text to an existing meme image.

When all these steps are taken together, how did the computer do? Here's a table that Wang and Wen came up with:

The left column shows the top-ranked human-created and human-voted memes for Chemistry Cat, Forever Alone, and Batman Slaps Robin. The middle column features the best automatically-generated memes using a less sophisticated method, and the right column has the best automatically-generated memes using Wang and Wen's method. We can see that Wang and Wen's computer manages to get a pretty good pun for Chemistry Cat and a decent Forever Alone reference, but fails at Batman Slaps Robin (Wang and Wen explain that it's actually a caption from the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme that just happens to mention "Batman" and "Robin"). But hey! That's still pretty impressive.

So, can a computer write a meme or are they uniquely human? So far, all we've really got is a machine that'll tell our own memes back to us.

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Big Questions
What Are Carbohydrates Used for In Our Bodies?
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What are the carbohydrates used for in our body?

Ray Schilling:

Carbs are varied. There are complex carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly and you hardly get an insulin reaction. On the other end of the spectrum there are refined carbs like sugar, which are rapidly absorbed in the gut and to which the body reacts swiftly with an insulin reaction to lower high blood sugars.

Generally speaking all carbs are broken down into glucose and absorbed in the gut. Glucose is the fuel that is metabolized inside the cells in the mitochondria to give us energy. This is particularly important in the brain, which lives solely by glucose as its energy supply, but our muscles, our heart, our liver, and kidneys are all very rich in mitochondria for the metabolism of glucose.

But there is a dark side to refined carbs that we need to know about: When all our glucose storage spaces in the liver and the muscles are full (glycogen is the storage form of glucose), then the liver starts processing glucose. With our sugar consumption having spiraled upwards in the last 183 years, this surplus sugar metabolism is causing more and more problems.

The liver produces triglycerides from the extra sugar and LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. This causes hardening of the arteries and causes heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.

We need to come to our senses and cut out processed foods (which have extra sugar in them), switch to a Mediterranean diet and only consume complex carbs, contained in legumes, vegetables, and fruit. It is also recommendable to cut out starchy foods with a glycemic index of higher than 55 in order to bring our liver metabolism back to normal (normal triglyceride and LDL cholesterol production). This will mean cutting out pasta, potatoes, rice, bread, and muffins.

If you're wondering what kind of recipes you could follow, I have included one week’s worth of meals in this book: A Survivor's Guide To Successful Aging: With recipes for 1 week provided by Christina Schilling.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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