Are there ghosts in our machines? Well, of course not, but a recent viral Twitter thread might have you believing there is something sinister lurking behind your computer screen, just waiting to be unleashed.
On Sept. 6, the internet was introduced to "Loab," an apparently AI-generated "woman." The internet promptly began calling her "the first cryptid of latent space," "creepy," a "demon" and "a queer icon." There's a lot going on here, so let's explain.
First, to understand Loab, you need to understand what's happening in AI art.
AI art is here
In the past few months, AI art -- that is, art generated by artificial intelligence tools -- has skyrocketed to prominence thanks to, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. These programs let users punch in a short phrase, a "prompt," which the AI interprets to create an image. Going from prompt to image takes a few minutes, at most, and images range from downright disturbing to whimsically beautiful to "wait, an AI did this?"
In early September, a video game designer won a Colorado art competition with a piece generated by Midjourney. The prominence of AI art, and stories like the art competition, have led to a crisis for artists and designers, with some suggesting it has created "an ethical and copyright black hole." This is because the AI generates new images based on a mammoth amount of real art, created by human beings, that it's been trained on.
The AI is not just taking old images and reworking them as new images, though; there's a lot more computation and math involved. If you ask an AI to draw a picture of hat, it doesn't mix all the hats in its database together and spit out the most average hat. Instead, it kind of guesses what you're looking for based on all the images it is trained on and develops an image of a hat you've never seen before. I've really oversimplified this, but the main message is this: Don't think of the images it generates as a collage of old images.
That's how we get to Loab.
Who or what is Loab?
Loab is an amalgam of human features in the shape of an older woman generated by an artificial intelligence art tool. Loab does not exist. Loab is not real. Loab was "created" by Twitter user @supercomposite using an image prompt. Supercomposite explained Loab's creation -- a "her," apparently -- in a detailed thread posted on Sept. 6.
(Note: There are graphic AI-generated images in the thread.)
In short, Supercomposite punched in a negative prompt, which tells the AI to create something that is the opposite of the prompt. The negative prompt they used spat out a mostly unintelligible image of a skyline with the letters "DIGITA PNTICS" emblazoned across it. They then used that as a negative prompt and... the AI spat out pictures featuring a long-haired, older woman with rosy cheeks. Supercomposite named "her" Loab, because one of the images generated some text that seems to say "LOAB."
This is where the "horror story" begins.
The next step was to prompt the AI by mixing other AI-generated images with images of Loab. Supercomposite took those first creepy images of Loab and essentially told the AI, "Hey, draw me something new with this woman as a base." That spawned all types of macabre and gory images, with headless humans and children with horrifying faces emerging from the AI's computations.
In telling the creepypasta-like tale, Supercomposite notes that Loab "haunts every image she touches." Which makes perfect sense in the way the AI art generators work. They've taken a prompt -- the original images of Loab -- and mixed them with other images to generate more images. The AI, Supercomposite writes, can "latch onto the idea of Loab."
It's unclear, at present, which AI generator Supercomposite used. They told CNET this was deliberate because they did "not want to advertise" the AI tool and didn't want to "start some kind of viral trend of people making gory stuff with the tools I've used."
Some have questioned whether or not there's more to the story and whether Supercomposite was able to generate these images using specific prompts in the AI.
These prompts are not public knowledge -- and as prompts are the key to generating images, there's a chance those prompts helped inspire some of the more gory or macabre aspects. There's also the possibility that many images generated that featured an element of "Loabness" were much cheerier, but didn't fit the thread and weren't used.
"It's a creepypasta since I embellished the creepiness but the process and the phenomena are totally accurately described in my thread," supercomposite told CNET.
Grotesque and concerning or just a clever creepypasta, Loab is a thing now. She even has her own Wikipedia page.
Notably, Loab isn't something you can recapitulate in an AI image generator like Midjourney. If you use the prompt "Loab" you get all sorts of different images, none of them featuring this woman. I don't know if I really need to say this, but that means Loab is not some demon haunting AI art generators.
Supercomposite told CNET that if you used the same negative image prompt in the tool they used, you could generate Loab again, however "the software has changed so that the exact same technique is not possible, but you can work around it." They have been retweeting Loab-like images from other creators.
But the reality is: You can't summon Loab. You can't get Loab to appear in your AI art. Punch in "Wonderful fun time playland" and Loab isn't going to appear ready to suck out your eyeballs or something. There's simply no way to find Loab. If you say Loab's name five times it will not appear in your AI art. Loab is not real. Right? Say it with me.
Loab is ň̴̖̭͂͋o̸̎͊̀͜t̴͇͉͑̅ͅ ̶͔͎̕͠r̵̤̹̄̌̇ȅ̷̛͎̪̱́å̴̱̲̃̚l̸̡͓̳͑͗͠
L̵͈̹̳̂̐͠ò̴̢͛̓a̶̡̛̟̳͑b̴̡̘̠͆̌ ̶̳͌ï̵͚͍͋s̷̫̼̿͐̋ ̷̳̍ň̴̖̭͂͋o̸̎͊̀͜t̴͇͉͑̅ͅ ̶͔͎̕͠r̵̤̹̄̌̇ȅ̷̛͎̪̱́å̴̱̲̃̚l̸̡͓̳͑͗͠