|'Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into
mine.' It's a classic quote from the film Casablanca, but can a computer
grasp the magic of such memorable lines? Researchers at Cornell
University in Ithaca, New York, have taught a computer to identify
memorable quotes with an accuracy approaching that of humans. It means
computers might one day help writers test their latest catchy lines.
The team amassed quotes from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which
contains a list of lines flagged by users as memorable. The context in
which a line is uttered can make a quote more notable, so as a control,
the team paired each notable quote with an ordinary one from the same
context. It was the same length and spoken by the same character at
around the same point in the film.
The computer analysed the pairs of quotes - around 2200 in total - for
language patterns, unusual words, and word combinations. Unusual words
were defined as those that rarely cropped up in text taken from news
publications. The computer managed to identify several characteristics
peculiar to the memorable quotes, creating a model that could identify
them. The analysis also showed that memorable lines often have a
property the team dubs 'generality': they can be widely used because
they don't contain words that tie them to a specific context.
The model was able to distinguish between memorable and non-memorable
quotes with 64% accuracy. Humans scored 78%. The team suggests that
political campaigners could use the model to assess their slogans.