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Face in a Cloud: How ideologues are like Google’s Deep Dream neural networks

Ok, that's definitely a little weird.
Ok, there’s definitely something a little odd about this cat.

Technology is weird. In their attempts to build neural network software that can process images and recognize objects in them, Google’s neural network researchers have created software that hallucinates, transforming mundane photographs of things like people and pets into bizarre fever dreams filled with strange mutant dog creatures and, for some reason, an excess of eyes.

Here’s one “before” pic of an ordinary kid:

kid2

And here’s what Google’s Deep Dream software turned it into:

kid1

So what on earth is going on here? Well, Google “trains” the neural networks by feeding it countless pictures of assorted animals, plants, buildings, faces, you name it, priming the software to spot anything that looks like, say, an eye or a dog or a bear.

To get the software to start “dreaming,” as I understand it, the researchers program it to enhance the patterns it thinks it sees in the images they upload. Then they run the enhanced picture back through the software, eventually ending up with weird and fantastic pics in which, as in the picture above, a blurry bit in the background has been transformed into a tiny staring bear.

Now they’ve set it up so you can upload your own pictures to see what the software will make of it. I haven’t tried it myself with any of my pics, but here are some of the weird hallucinations it’s generated based on the photos other people have uploaded.

A nebula becomes … a space dog with three noses and seven legs?

nebula

A nice doggy chewing on a toy grows a bunch of extra eyes as his toy turns into a multi-legged bird

doghead

Another nice doggy:

nicedog

A nice kitty, sporting an eyeball on its nose, with a bit of snow in the background becoming a tiny six legged wolf?

kittyinsnow

This started out as a picture of two women watching a fire.

fire

 

As you can see, Deep Dream has a bit of a dog obsession. Indeed, here it turns a pic of this cat sleeping …

cat

… into a pair of multi-headed, multi-legged dog creatures.

dogs

You can find an ever-growing assortment of other Deep Dream pics here, though the site is now getting spammed with NSFW images. If you need a more detailed explanation, with more examples, Gizmodo has one here. And for some especially freaky pics, see here. To easily make your own, check out the Dreamscope app.

So what does any of this have to do with ideologues? Well, like Google’s neural network, we human beings are designed by evolution to find patterns in everything we see and hear; this ability enables us to quickly and efficiently make sense of the world around us. But it can also lead us to find patterns that aren’t there — the proverbial faces we see in the clouds, for example.

Deep Dream shows us what can happen when pattern recognition gets the best of us — like the software, we can conjure elaborate visions out of pretty much nothing at all. That’s how conspiracy theorists look at the world, finding “evidence” of elaborate conspiracies pretty much everywhere they look.

If you want to see just how weird this can get, look at some of the countless YouTube videos that present video glitches in news footage as “evidence” that news anchors and politicians are routinely “shape-shifting” into reptiles live on air, for what supposed reason I couldn’t tell you.

As anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time is well aware, this kind of “pattern recognition gone berserk” is common amongst the people I write about, from Men’s Rights activists imagining vast feminist “multibillion$$” conspiracies against men to the far-right GamerGaters and white supremacists who’ve managed to convince themselves that a Nickelodeon sitcom about a cheerleader-turned-quarterback is really a perverse “Cultural Marxist” attempt to sell “racial cuckoldry” to children.

Then again, I’m not sure any of these ideologues will ever be able to come up with anything quite so bizarre as the following clip, which is what happens when you run the film clip of an already hallucinatory film — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — through Google’s Deep Dream.

Warning: After watching this you may not be able to sleep for a week.

And here for the hell of it is the Audio Bullys’ song Face in a Cloud, featuring extended samples of Joe Cocker’s “Marjorine.”

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freemage
freemage
7 years ago

Okay, I’d seen one of these on Imgur, without any sort of explanation, and I wound up curled under a blanket, rocking softly. thank you for the context.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
7 years ago

I would comment about how pareidolia supposedly evolved so we’d spot people about to jump out of the bushes and steal our mammoth steaks; or how apophenia is a common factor amongst conspiracy theorists; but those pictures are just horrible so I’m going back to the ‘gamer’ thread!

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
7 years ago

Can anybody get that thing to work? Literally every file I upload just results in “File type needs to be JPG” even though they are all JPG.

Anarchonist
Anarchonist
7 years ago

I think I speak for many of us here when I say: Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!

Anarchonist
Anarchonist
7 years ago

..although maybe a Shoggoth would fit better, now that I think of it.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
7 years ago

Oooh, a new post! And it’s about something technological! Awesome, neural networks? Let’s go check it out!

*click*

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
7 years ago

That is so damn cool! I love fractal stuff, which is what happens when you do the type of feedback loop they did. Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better visual example of the type of “echo chamber” thinking conspiracy theorists and the like get in to.

Also, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

andiexist
andiexist
7 years ago

Oh gosh, this is amazing. Especially the space dog’s city. *_*

Monzach
Monzach
7 years ago

*sanity check*

Yuppers, that’s a failure…

*rolls sanity damage*

And now I’m temporarily incapacitated. 🙁

@Anarchonist:

I definitely saw most of the pictures as showing shoggoths. Iä, iä, Cthulhu ftagn! :O

tooimpurenangel
7 years ago

Those are all eerily beautiful and so very weird.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
7 years ago

Alright, yeah, the site must be down. Disappointing, I wanted to play with it…

davidknewton
7 years ago

This still isn’t as frightening as the last post about the neo-Nazi infographics!

Tom
Tom
7 years ago

Our need to find patterns everywhere is also responsible for stereotyping.
If only we had evolved so that modern society was our niche, as opposed to evolving and THEN building a niche for ourselves.

Moggie
Moggie
7 years ago

What if, right, we’re the ones who are hallucinating, and google’s software, like, sees the world as it really is, yeah? Whoa.

I was going to suggest feeding it an image from the Mandelbrot set, but (a) no doubt someone has already done that, and (b) the resulting rift in the fabric of space and time is spreading out right now.

fromafar2013
fromafar2013
7 years ago

It’s like dog/wombat fractals. o_o

Gaebolga
Gaebolga
7 years ago

davidknewton wrote:

This still isn’t as frightening as the last post about the neo-Nazi infographics!

Holy crap! Someone needs to run some of those through Deep Dream!

Genn
7 years ago

Whoa. That was a damn sight more creepy than what I was prepared for. Yikes! Interesting project, though.

scarlettpipstrelle
7 years ago

apophenia

ikanreed
ikanreed
7 years ago

I’m am completely dumbfounded that everyone is freaked out by these.

It just seems loosely artistic to me.

ryeash
ryeash
7 years ago

I’m pretty sure this looks like a valid reason for the computers to revolt. If I was nothing but a constantly tripping consciousness, I would certainly want to kill what created me. Yikes.

That or it’s just showing us what kinds of dogs it likes, I guess. Which might be even more terrifying.

Bina
Bina
7 years ago

Well, that was trippy…and I don’t even do hallucinogens. I must be a natural hallucinator, though, because I see faces in random splotches on tiles, shadows in the woods, etc., all the time. My bedroom wallpaper — a pattern of random green and purple brushstrokes — is full of weird alien species ones.

And clouds. I see faces and profiles in them all the time. And ones that look like Ireland!

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
7 years ago

@Bina:

When I was young, my room still had baby wallpaper full of twittering birds, rainbows, and happy suns with little thin rays . If I stared at it for a while, everything would start moving; the sun rays would go in and out, the birds would flap their wings, and faces would change around.

Is this what they really mean by “being high on life?”

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
7 years ago

@David

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