It all seemed like harmless fun… at first.
It all began on May 30, when a simple online “Fotogenerator” application was posted by Dutch news site Nieuws en Co. The app uses the “Pix2Pix” algorithm — developed by Tom Kenter of the University of Amsterdam — which adopts “deep learning” image-recognition technology to turn doodles and sketches into computer-generated artwork. Sounds fun, right?
Even the example they provide looks fairly benign… even if there’s a certain digital coldness there, which nudges this transposed image into the Uncanny Valley:
But then I tried it out myself with a simple cartoon face… and this was the lifeless puppet-thing it came up with:
I’m not the only one who found this thing both fascinating and deeply disturbing… in fact, in a matter of days, Fotogenerator had already been used to create millions of bizarre images, and blew up all over social media, where users blessed it with nicknames like “Nightmare Hellface Generator” and other colorful titles.
If there’s a certain sameness to the colors and textures provided, that’s because the app uses a single photo as its image source: according to DutchNews.nl, this image is a photo of Nieuws en Co presenter Lara Rense. So basically, Pix2Pix is the image equivalent of Seth Brundle’s computer in THE FLY… and your own sketch is essentially mingling its molecules with those of Rense’s picture. This basically adds a whole new layer of existential horror.
I should have known, because we’ve seen this happen before — last Halloween, in fact, when MIT created a similar app called “The Nightmare Machine,” which used a variation on the same technology to vomit hellish mountains of grotesque, demonic imagery onto Instagram.