Mixed Messages Last week’s episode of Ted Lasso resurfaced a 51-year-old Italian pop song that’s the perfect anthem for the generative AI boom.
A montage late in the episode plays out to the tune of Adriano Celentano’s 1972 Euro-hit “Prisencolinensinainciusol.” If you don’t pay close attention it’s easy to miss that, while it sounds like Adriano is singing in English, it’s actually complete gibberish.
It’s been covered by Boing Boing (multiple times) and NPR’s All Things Considered before, but if you’re unfamiliar with it, the song recreates what American English sounds like to someone who doesn’t speak the language.
I may have heard it on the radio as a kid without realizing it, but the first time I really encountered it was at an Alamo Drafthouse screening of Arrival, where they played it in the pre-show reel (a brilliant touch). I remember how much it messed with my head and how I had to really concentrate to tell my brain that the words I thought I was hearing weren’t actually words.
I hadn’t connected the two before, but that makes the song a close spiritual relative of the current crop of chatbots—pattern recognition machines that mimic the order of language, but lack any sense of true meaning.