This AI wants you to shop at a mall named “Steve”

By Melissa Locker

August 31, 2018

It’s no secret that retail has been struggling lately—and the once great malls that dotted the American retail landscape have been particularly hard hit. Now, an unlikely potential savior has emerged: a neural network with a knack for naming malls that people will want to shop in.

Artificial Intelligence expert Janelle Shane wanted her neural network to tackle the retail problem, so she fed it a dataset of over 1,100 names for American shopping malls and tasked it with coming up with new ones. After all, as Shane points out in a blog post, mall names are a “carefully calculated combination of bland and grandiose,” and what is better at careful combinations than a machine?

As expected, the results are far more intriguing than normal mall names, but we’re sure shoppers will line up to shop at “Bointy Mall,” “the East Bointy Mall,” “The Shopp Mall,” or “Outlets of the Source Mall.”

Shane wasn’t fully satisfied with the options, though, and decided she needed an additional data source to spice things up. Naturally, that meant feeding a whole bunch of transcripts from the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, introducing its eerie fictional world full of screaming vortices, deer-headed deities, and faceless old women. The idea isn’t that far-fetched, because the town of Night Vale has its very own mall, aptly named the “Night Vale Mall,” which has been the site of some very unfortunate events.

Once the neural network got a hold of the Night Vale transcripts, its mall-naming became spectacular. Options include “Steve Mall,” “Mustroom,” “Sorrow Park Mall,” “Person Shell” (The Body Shop must have an outpost there, right?), “Mall Glow Place,” “Chanting Place,” and the “South Unit Presence.”

These all sound like reasonable naming options, but the bar is pretty high for us at Fast Company—our HQ is located near a mall called The Oculus.


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