Saturday, November 13, 2021

I'm Ready For My Close-Up Now, Computer.

You can thank Tipa for this post. And Grimes. I already had half a mind (Quiet at the back!) to do something with the Grimes story when Tipa's post popped up on my blog roll. Go synchronicity!

The news that everyone's favorite/least favorite (Delete as applicable) posthuman (Or is that transhuman? I can never remember the difference.) has started an all-girl group (Grimes' description, not mine.) made up entirely of AIs and named it NPC seemed so on point for this blog as not to be ignorable, even though it turns out, when you drill down into the detail, the AIs are "not sentient" (Thanks for clearing that up, Grimes!) and the music is not, as yet, being created entirely by nonhumans. 

I think that might be the most overwritten paragraph in the history of Inventory Full but I feel confident you'll find it parses correctly. I love to parse! Go me!

NPC already have a song out. Well, Grimes and Chris Lake have a song they've released under the NPC brand. It's pretty spiffy, too, although the chant super-reminds me of something... 


The actual AIs aren't quite ready for their public yet for the extraordinary reason that "photos of the group weren’t ready yet because “we’re stuck on making their faces”"

Enter Artflow to the rescue. Artflow, as Tipa explains, is a website where "you type in a description of the portrait you want, and out comes a portrait of someone who never was."

The site itself is the most minimal thing you've ever seen. Absolutely no explanation of anything at all. Just the bare instruction "Describe your avatar and click Generate.", a box to type into and a button marked "Generate" to make the magic happen. 

There is more detail if you look for it. I recommend reading the whole thing. It answered a few questions I had, such as where the AI draws the images from and what the reproduction rights are. In sharp contrast to all the nonsense NFT talk we've been having, anything you generate using Artflow is "is licensed under the most accommodating Creative Commons license **CC BY** that allows both commercial and non-commercial use, including derivative work, as long as you attribute Artflow."

Perhaps more worryingly, considering my propensity to keep making versions of one celebrity in the guise of another, "This does not however cover the right to use someone's likeness for other than editorial use... You take full responsibility for both the provided content (including uploaded images, text and other media) as well as generated content that could be considered offensive, obscene, libellous or in any other way violating the law." So don't say you weren't warned.

I spent several hours typing stuff into Artflow last night. I'm warning you now that if you start playing with this thing you won't want to stop. 

The most fun part for me is watching my mind spontaneously concatenate fragments into phrases. I do
it all the time as I write but this thing just fires up all those synapses. I started off with the very obvious "My favorite person pretending to be my favorite character" but pretty quickly wandered off the predictable path into the deep forests of the subconscious.

Where "Lonely lighthouse keeper missing her cats" or "submarine commander having a moment of self-doubt as painted by one of the pre-raphaelites" came from is my therapist's guess. (I don't have a therapist, just for clarity, although I'd perfectly amenable to having one under appropriate circumstances.)

The next most fun part is waiting to see what the AI makes of the input. That's what turns the whole thing into a game. In fact, I can immediately see how this could be turned into an actual game, something I'm sure someone is doing right now, especially since the exceptionally generous license allows for commercial use.

The game would work like Pictionary, with people typing in their seed phrases and everyone trying to guess what they'd said, based on the result. Sometimes it would be very obvious. Some of mine came out looking almost exactly like I'd imagined. Others, however, were head-scratchingly odd.

"F. Scott Fitzgerald if he'd been an actor in My Own Private Idaho", for example, looks almost exactly I'd hoped it would. "Sylvia Plath as the handmaiden of the Goddess Selene", however, came out looking so incredibly unlike Sylvia Plath I had to go look at a whole bunch of actual photographs of her to see where it had gone wrong. 

And in the end I could see it. It's there in the jaw-line and the mouth and the shape of the skull. This thing isn't just making stuff up at random. It's smart.

Some of the results were just perfect. I really love this tryptych, which I did in quick succession. Either I or Artflow was really on a roll there.

The Marilyn is absolutely 100% spot on for the seed phrase. The Janis really does look like her, especially about the eyes, and the schoolmarm vibe is undeniable. The Kate Bush one looks nothing like her but it's just infectiously joyous. You can all but see the puppy. Makes me happy every time I look at it.

For every "Yes!" there was a "What?!" Sometimes I got the impression the AI simply had no idea what I was talking about.

Allowing for traditional gender stereotypes, I think Liam there looks more like a young boy than a young girl. As for Supergirl, I can see Melissa Benoist in there, somewhere, but if we were playing that game I mentioned, I'd be willing to bet my house on no-one getting Viet Cong. I certainly can't see it. As for Daria, well, it's perfectly clear Artflow has no clue who that is, although evidently it knows its Tennessee Williams.

The ones that don't work out are fun but it's the ones where it really works that send shivers down my spine. These next three are supernaturally accurate.

For some inexplicable reason I had The Addams Family on my brain last night, which inevitably brought the Munsters into play as well. "Uncle Fester's Sister"came out almost exactly as you'd expect, except she wasn't bald. Artflow doesn't seem to like baldness. I noticed other people had managed to get some naked scalps but only by specifying the word "bald" in the seed phrase. I thought it would be a given that anything based off Uncle Fester or Telly Savalas would come without hair but evidently not.

Towards the end I felt the results were starting to get a little... peculiar. Disturbing, even. These three make for a real rogues' gallery. I guess that's what you expect when you bring R. Crumb onboard and anything involving Zelda was always going to be risky. The evil martian turned out surprisingly cute, though.

On the topic of expectations, prepare for more of these portraits from paradise (or purgatory). I suspect Artflow may turn out to be my replacement for the Pitchfork 25 posts, something I can cobble together quickly or prepare in advance and stack up for future use. I know I'm saving every single picture and I can't see why I wouldn't want to share. I'm going to have to do something about the white backgrounds, though. Too jarring.

I do hope this takes off as a bit of a blogosphere trend, at least for a week or two. As Tipa said, I’d love to see what you come up with. Let's end with some of my favorites that I haven't already used.

Serge there, looking disturbingly like both himself and a deceased friend of mine. Millicent, so knowing. Dean in his prime, although I'm not quite sure about the Picasso. Almost a touch of the Lucian Freud about it, I'd say.

Hmm. Lucian Freud. Now there's an idea.


  1. Here in the US Grimes is a judge on a dreadful show called "Alter Ego." It's a singing (ish) competition where the contestants wear a motion-capture suit and have an avatar rendered in real-time(ish, it often looks like some of the details are pre-rendered. For instance the lip-syncing while singing is pretty good, but during interviews with the judges, not so much) that the judges watch and listen to on a screen below the stage, while trying really hard to sell the dream that they are actually watching the rendered character up on the stage. So I guess this is Grimes' stick? I'd never heard of this person before I saw this show.

    The other judges are, Alanis Morisette, and someone my partner tells me was in a boy band but whose name didn't make enough of an impression for me to remember. I guess the royalty cash-flow for Will & Alanis is starting to dry up.

    1. I know Grimes as a pretty good pop star and the poster-child for transhumanism. She was also, of course, the partner of the CEO of Space, Elon Musk, but fortunately she's free of him now. I'd heard of Alter Ego but I've never seen it. I'm not likely to, either, even though I am pretty intrigued by AI performers and similar technological innovations in the performing and creative arts. I doubt it would be worth it given the involvement of and Alanis Morisette, neither of whom I can stand. Alanis has some kind of drama or comedy TV show in the works, too, which I also plan to avoid at all costs.

  2. Did you try AI text-based "games" yet? Last year, I stopped playing MMORPGs for several months cause I was too busy playing AI Dungeon (though nowadays NovelAI is the "best" AI game IMO.)

    1. I've heard about these but I have yet to investigate them to any extent. Thanks for the prompt. I'll look into it!

  3. It's interesting, that makes me think of the holodeck in Star Trek. It always seemed absurdly unlikely to me the a computer would be able to go off of instructions like "Plo picasso at the age of 30, but with red hair" and actually generate a convincing holodeck character. However, that is obviously the direction some of these AI experiments are going in.

    "This person does not exist" is almost spooky to me, they are often very convincing:

    1. I'm loving these links. Thabnks for that one. It's really disturbing. I flipped through a couple of dozen in quick succession and I felt the eyes frequently didn't look quite right. I'm not sure I'd have noticed if I'd seen the shots separately, though. And some of them looked perfectly real.

      This is going to get a lot weirder in the next few years I imagine.

  4. I had fun with this, although not the way you described exactly.

    1. I've been playing with it all day. I can't leave it alone. I've tried all kinds of things from song lyrics to strings of adjectives or household objects. It's just fascinating to see what it comes up with. Also, because it does the six-panel thing, you can make thematic sets that would frame beautifully or make great t-shirts.

      Lots of yours are great. I love some of the seed phrases. I laughed when I saw you'd done Norma Normal because I did Paranormal Norma earlier this evening. Have you tried using the names of your game characters? That's a hoot.

    2. I did one more run of 'em, then decided to stop.

  5. Holy cow. You're creeping me out, Bhaggy.

    1. You were okay with the robot dog that's going to kill us all but a few funny faces went a step too far?

    2. Well, that didn't need any commentary, but this?

  6. I had a lot of fun making the characters of Scooby Doo. I had alcoholic Karen Velma, mugshot Shaggy, boxer Fred and I can't remember what I had Daphne as, but she came out looking really good. Oh yeah, she was a Tech Executive. I had Theranos on my mind.


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