Artificial intelligence such as IBM’s Watson continue to amaze people. Watson astonished the world with his performance on Jeopardy. Recently, a group got together to see if Watson could do as well as or even score higher than very accurate transcriptionists in transcribing song lyrics. They found two transcriptionists known for their accuracy. The group also wondered if they would end up with any mondegreens. Mondegreens occur when someone does not hear or misunderstands a word or lyrics and just put an abstract group of letters together. These combinations of letters can at times provide amusement, are nonsensical within their context and if it became popular enough might just end up being one of the weird new phrase-words that the Oxford Dictionary adds to its new yearly list of words. Honestly, not to farfetched when you see words some of the words now placed in the Oxford Dictionary.
They picked a few lines of lyrics from four songs from four very different artist. To keep distraction to a minimum and decrease uncontrollable influences both groups heard only the song’s lyrics sung but absolutely no music accompanied the lyrics.
Watson’s database did not contain these songs and a promise obtained from the transcriptionists that they were unfamiliar with these songs and they would not search the web for the lyrics.
The result may surprise some and not surprise others but the transcriptionists performed with perfect precision. They transcribed all lyrics to all the songs without any missing any words or making any errors. Thus, they definitely could not make up any mondegreens since they had no errors. Watson on the other hand did not perform nearly as well. He had numerous missing words and errors in not just one song but in each of the four lyrical examples. Watson’s failed with the lyrics to “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John with eight errors and three missed words and the lyrics to “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift he had four errors and six missed words. Unfortunately, Watson did not do well on the last two songs’ lyrics either. Watson failed with the lyrics to “Running with the Devil” by Van Halen with nine errors, fifteen missed words, and the fourth song “Ticks” by Brad Paisley Watson made twelve errors and missed five words.
Watson with all his errors did not create any amusing or weird mondegreens. Some professionals state that mondegreens are created when the brain misunderstands a lyric and tries to fill the space. Although the brain believes the mondegreen is more logical in fact it usually less logical and more amusing. Psychologically some believe this is cognitive dissonances when the brain attempts to make sense of a word by making assumptions just to complete what it is hearing. A great example of a mondegreen is Hendtrix’s lyrics from “Purple Rain”. Most hear “kiss this guy” when in fact the lyrics are “kiss the sky”. Considered the most misunderstood lyric and famous mondegreen are the lyrics to “Blinded by the Light” that Springstein wrote for Manfred Man. Springstein wrote “cut loose like a deuce” and Manfred Mann changed it to “revved up like a deuce” but people hear “wrapped up like a douche”. When asked about this mondegreen Springstein laughed and thought it amusing. But Watson for all the mistakes and errors like “dd…ddd” never created any mondegreens. That leaves one question is it a failure somewhere in Watson’s programming, or general abilities that did not allow any mondegreens to be created.