As language models show increasing power, a parallel trend has received less notice: The vogue for naming models after characters in the children’s TV show Sesame Street.

What’s new: In a recent feature article, The Verge gets to the bottom of the Muppetware phenomenon.

How to get to Sesame Street: The trend encompasses tech giants including Google, Facebook, Baidu, and China’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

  • It began in 2017 with ELMo (Embeddings from Language Models), a product of the Allen Institute for AI. Its creators liked the name’s whimsical flavor, and the model’s way with words garnered headlines in the tech press.
  • The following year, researchers at Google debuted BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), acknowledging a debt to ELMo.
  • Other researchers paid homage by perpetuating what had become an inside joke. Today, the Muppetware family includes Big BIRD, ERNIE, Kermit, Grover, RoBERTA, and Rosita.
  • But what about GPT-2? The article reveals that OpenAI’s extraordinarily loquacious model was almost called Snuffleupagus. The researchers dropped the name because it wasn’t serious enough.

Why it matters: Muppet names are fun! But the article points out that they’re also memorable. They brand individual models for other researchers and elevate natural language processing for the broader public. Beyond that, the informal naming convention signifies the AI community’s collaborative attitude.

Behind the news: Sesame Street debuted in 1969 aiming to create TV that held children’s attention while also educating them. It was the first children’s show to base its episodes on research.

We’re thinking: This edition of The Batch was brought to you by the letters A and I.


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