She’s out there somewhere, lurking in a parallel universe of possibilities. All you have to do to summon it is type the correct prompt into an AI image generator.
Like a digital incantation, the words will reveal the eerie face of a middle-aged woman with dead eyes, a blank stare, and an ominous grimace.
Her name is Loab (pronounced like “lobe”), and she was “discovered” by a Swedish-based artist named Supercomposite on Twitter.
Supercomposite is part of the first wave of modern creators to explore the fields of text-to-image AI generators. This year, while experimenting with negative prompts (which ask machine learning algorithms to find the extreme opposite of something), the artist fell on a scary face.
When Supercomposite played the prompt again, they said the same woman came back, this time next to the word “loab”.
“The AI has reproduced her more easily than most celebrities. Her presence is persistent and haunts every image she touches”, Supercomposite wrote on Twitter in a September 2022 thread about Loab’s discovery.
“Sit down. This is a true horror story and veers heavily into the macabre.”
With a hook like that, it’s no wonder Loab has taken the internet by storm. The image of this mysterious woman is now so famous that she even has her own Wikipedia page.
🧵: I discovered this woman, whom I call Loab, in April. The AI replicated her more easily than most celebrities. Her presence is persistent and haunts every image she touches. CW: Sit down. It’s a true horror story, and turns heavily macabre. pic.twitter.com/gmUlf6mZtk
— Supercomposite (@supercomposite) September 6, 2022
Part of the mystery of Loab is what she represents. Loab’s figure became a kind of ‘tronie‘ – a type of Dutch Golden Age art form that exaggerates the expression of a face – the one who does not represent a person but an idea.
Loab’s allegory is just a little more terrifying than, saythe subject of the most famous tronie titled A girl with an earring. More deeply, it was not made by a human artist who can tell us more about the idea he was trying to represent.
Of the hundreds of Loab iterations that Supercomposite has summoned, many features dismembered or screaming children background. Some AI-generated images were so grotesque that the artist decided not to share them publicly.
“I was tearing Loab apart and putting her back together. She’s an emergent island in latent space that we don’t know how to locate with textual queries,” written the artist on Twitter.
“She finds everyone sooner or later. You just have to know where to look”, Supercomposite adds.
Even when her flushed cheeks or other prominent features disappear, the “Loabness” of the images she helped make is undeniable. She haunts the images, persists across generations, and dominates other parts of the prompt because the AI so easily optimizes towards her face. pic.twitter.com/4M7ECWlQRE
— Supercomposite (@supercomposite) September 6, 2022
Loab has captured the world’s attention for more than his nightmarish qualities. Pulled from the abyss through what Supercomposite calls a “emerging statistical accident”the strange woman represents a new era of creativity that we may not be ready for.
Brendan Murphy, a photographer and lecturer in digital media at Central Queensland University in Australia, spends much of his free time pondering the future of AI and sampling image and text generators.
With the recent explosion in technology, he believes the art world is heading for a paradigm shift, much like when photography first hit the scene in the early 1800s.
Today, when Murphy uses AI to make art, he thinks of it as landscape photography, walking around a place and looking for interesting things to capture. Except that, in this case, the landscape he explores is a kind of parallel universe of human art.
After all, AI generators are trained on human knowledge, culture, and artistic traditions, which means we could plausibly have made whatever they create.
These unrealized possibilities are now within people’s reach, and Murphy and Supercomposite are among the first to join the hunt.
“There are things you see that you’re interested in, that you really want to amplify, and you really want to go in that direction,” Murphy tells ScienceAlert.
“There’s no reason to go down those paths. And there’s probably very good reasons why people have never gone down those paths. Because it’s probably never going to impress anyone or sell anything. either.”
That’s not to say that using AI to make art is frivolous. Instead, Murphy says AI is a tool artists can use to deepen their art practices. And every once in a while, a precious figure like Loab emerges from the abyss.
“I think the thing with Loab is that it’s a great story. It’s not just the technology. It’s about looking at what drives the technology. It’s about looking at the possibilities of technology,” he explains.
“And I think that’s great. I think that’s a worthwhile work of art. Much more worthwhile than just creating a particular AI image. There’s a lot of thought, a lot of experimentation, a lot of iterations.”
Anne Ploin, a digital sociologist at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies the potential impact of machine learning on creative work, shares a similar view.
“AI models can extrapolate in unexpected ways [and] draw attention to a totally unrecognized factor in a certain style of painting”, Ploin said.
“But machine learning models aren’t self-contained. They’re not going to create new artistic movements on their own.”
Murphy and other art experts think AI is unlikely to erase human creativity, at least not entirely. Art, after all, only exists if humans appreciate it, and as a species we tend to be quite biased about our abilities.
In the future, AI-generated artwork can inspire us to question artistic traditions and explore our emotional responses to images, Murphy says.
But we are entering a world where many writing and painting services could become redundanterasing the jobs of many ghostwriters, illustrators, designers and photographers.
The explosion of AI-generated art in recent months has raised concerns that algorithms are ripping artists off by replicating their distinct styles.
The best human artists will undoubtedly continue to rival the AI, and Murphy suspects that it will be creators who lean into their humanity that will be most successful in the future.
A tangible and real public face and identity could be more crucial than ever for artists. “No matter how apps like Lensa shake up the way art is created, the artist’s personality remains an important context for their work,” Murphy said. recently written in The Conversation.
ChatGPT is an AI-based text generator that was released to the public in November 2022. Its name stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, with an engine based on evaluating the probability that certain words follow each other in a block of text , kind of like a supercharged version of your phone’s predictive text feature.
Like Loab, there seems to be a ghostly presence in the program’s responses that tests the limits of human knowledge and creativity. Even if it doesn’t take much for the veneer to fall off, exposing its wiring like a dice-rolling “parrot” that bets on producing the right strings of words to fool us.
Any wisdom he provides is left for us to choose and judge. When asked how AI is changing art, ChatGPT agrees with Murphy:
” Artificial intelligence changes the way art is created, perceived and experienced. AI algorithms can be used to generate new art forms, such as music, poetry, and visual arts. These algorithms can also be used to analyze and interpret existing works of art in new and interesting ways. Additionally, AI technology is used to create interactive art installations and performances that can respond and interact with viewers in real time. Overall, AI enables artists to create and explore new forms of expression, and audiences to experience art in new and exciting ways.”
The boundaries of artistic practice are expanding and Loab is just the beginning.