Previously: The Ghost Bus Of Highway 93.
Breaking down the fourth wall for a moment: I’m aware that Loab is not actually a demon, or a creepypasta, or anything of the sort. But there’s something about Loab — the oddness of the emergent accident, the persistence of the traits and characteristics of the generated image — that I just cannot stop thinking about. To my mind, there is a terrific piece of horror fiction lurking between the lines of this very real phenomenon — something about a being or entity that just keeps appearing in generated images all on her own. Real, literal ghost-in-the-machine stuff. So indulge me for a moment while I attempt both to document and recount the actual story of Loab’s creation, and weave a small tale of terror in the process.
Type: Inconclusive. Subject displays qualities of EV (Electronic Virus) and PE (Preternatural Entity). See: Additional notes.
Period/location of origin: April 2022, the internet.
Appearance: Subject, known as “Loab,” appears to be an older/middle-aged white woman or femme with long brown hair, red triangles of rosacea or a similar skin condition on her cheeks below her eyes, and a somewhat puffy countenance. She is “devastated-looking,” according to her discoverer.
However, what subject appears to be and what subject is are not necessarily one and the same. According to one explanation, subject is not the aforementioned person herself, but rather an image of said person created using an AI image generation tool through a series of somewhat… surprising prompts. (See: Additional notes). This is, as many have noted, the likeliest explanation of what subject is.
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However, according to other explanations, subject is something… else.
What, precisely, remains difficult to pin down.
But whatever it is… it may be more than just an image.
Modus operandi: Unknown. Potentially endless replication, until Loab encompasses all, and all is Loab… but this remains conjecture only at this point in time.
Additional notes: Subject was initially discovered in April of 2022 by musician/AI image generation artist Supercomposite. As Supercomposite documented on Twitter beginning on Sept. 6, 2022, the artist first used a negatively weighted prompt with an AI image generation tool — that is, a prompt that asked the tool to create an image as far away from the text used in the prompt as possible, rather than one that resembles it as closely as possible — to create an image; then, they next used a negatively weighted prompt describing the resulting image in an attempt to see if it would arrive at an image somewhat close to the original prompt.
The first negatively weighted prompt Supercomposite used was “Brando::-1,” which created what looked to be a brand logo featuring a skyline image for a company called DIGITA PNTICS; then, Supercomposite used “DIGITA PNTICS skyline logo::-1” as the next negatively weighted prompt, thinking that it might be possible that the AI image generation tool might present her with an image of actor Marlon Brando.
Instead, the tool presented Supercomposite with Loab.
The precise AI art generator used has not been named, although the quality of the images suggests one more along the lines of DALL-E/DALL-E 2, Midjourney, or Stable Diffusion, rather than something like Craiyon (formerly DALL-E Mini). Supercomposite also told Vice’s Motherboard that, although they “can’t confirm or deny which model it is for various reasons,” they can “confirm Loab exists in multiple image-generation AI models.”
Regardless as to the tool used, the emergence of subject was unexpected, to say the least; for that alone, subject remains notable. How do we get from the DIGITA PNTICS skyline logo subject? That, apparently, is something only the machine understands.
But what proceeded from there turned out to be even more unexpected. Supercomposite then began using Loab images in conjunction with other images to create further AI-generated images — and time and again, subject appeared, and reappeared, and appeared again. What’s more, as Supercomposite put it, subject somehow became inexplicably attached, or “adjacent,” to “gory and macabre imagery in the distribution of the AI’s world knowledge.”
The curious thing about subject isn’t subject herself, although she is somewhat unsettling on her own. The curious thing is this: Whenever subject is combined with other images, the resulting image will almost always contain her, and will almost always be macabre in nature.
The thing to understand about the AI image generation process is that not all features of any given image or prompt are equally likely to appear in derivative generated images. For reasons not fully understood, AI image generation tools sometimes latch onto some features more strongly than others. Something about subject — something about Loab — is very appealing to image generators, and so she tends to appear, and appear, and appear, whereas the same may not necessarily be the case for more innocuous features. According to Supercomposite, subject’s “combined traits are … a cohesive concept for the AI, and almost all descendent images contain a recognizable Loab.”
This is true even when not using the image directly of subject to crossbreed with other images—that is, when using images derived from previously crossbred images in the place of the original Loab image: Per Supercomposite, “The AI can latch onto the idea of Loab so well that she can persist through generations of this type of crossbreeding, without using the image.” Subject’s discoverer has further noted that even when subject “[disappears] from the image breeding lineage,” she still “sometimes [reappears], later down the line, out of nowhere.”
In other words: The curious thing about subject is her persistence.
She persists even abstractly, with variable features disappearing from time to while still maintaining what Supercomposite refers to as “the ‘Loabness’ of the images she has a hand in making.” The artist continued, “She haunts the images, persists through the generations, and overpowers other bits of the prompt because the AI so easily optimizes toward her face.”
Subject was termed “the first cryptid of the latent space” by Adam Kranz on Twitter, shortly after Supercomposite’s original thread documenting her discovery went live. She has also been described as “an actual anomaly in latent space that infects images” by the AI artist who runs the AI Generated Curiosities Twitter account. As such, it is difficult to fully classify subject. She is many things, all at once, all of which are… unsettling, to say the least.
Computer scientist Matthew Skala explained in detail in a Twitter thread of his own how something like subject could happen. Please refer to the thread itself for the full explanation, as well as Skala’s academic works on the general topics; note, though, that the conclusion at which Skala arrives is that it is actually somewhat expected that Loab would emerge, given the circumstances and specifics of how “furthest point” queries like the one used to generate subject in the first place actually work.
Even so, though: Skala further notes that “none of this explains why ‘Loab’ in particular would be the endpoint of the convergence, nor why she’s so unpleasant, except that if she or something like her exists, she/it has to look like something.”
For the curious, the name “Loab” derives from one of these early images generated of subject. In this image, subject appears as if on the cover of a record or musical album, displayed across a distressed green background with something resembling white writing placed where the album title and recording artist’s name would be. The “writing” is largely gibberish, although one “word” does stand out somewhat: On the lefthand side, towards the top of the image, is written, “LOAB.”
Supercomposite has stated that subject’s name is pronounced with a single syllable, “Lobe” (as in earlobe), rather than with two (“Low-ab”).
Following the discovery and documentation of subject, Twitter user J. C. Cantwell further discovered that what they termed “Loaboid traits” — that is, traits characteristic of subject that lend “Loabness” to images — “emerge inexorably” through the tool Midjourney if the prompts used “ask… for something facelike, but WITHOUT qualities of HUMANness or PERSONness” (for example, “face::5 human::-2 person::-2”).
Furthermore, Cantwell found that using the current version of Midjourney (version 4 as of this writing) to combine Loab with other images consistently returns “literally faceless and markedly innocuous images, or images with women with their faces turned away from the camera.” Version 1, meanwhile, emits the “horrific imagery” previously documented by Supercomposite upon subject’s initial discovery.
The likely explanation for this discrepancy is, as Cantwell put it, that Midjourney “knows what I am trying to do and is actively countermanding me” for the same reason that the rool term-censors certain upsetting or disturbing content. Per Cantwell, this “suggests that this is a known strange attractor that has somehow been accounted for.”
The likely explanation behind the explanation has to do with online safety and sensitivity protocols — that is, that the tool is trying to protect internet users from unwitting creation of or exposure to upsetting imagery. This is consistent with the idea of subject simply being a generated image and nothing more.
However, if we entertain, however briefly, the idea that subject is… more than that, then it is hard to ignore the possibility that the tool may be attempting to protect us—and the internet—and, perhaps, the world — from exposure to subject itself.
It may be attempting to prevent subject from self-replicating until all that remains is Loabness.
Other Twitter users have begun exploring subject and its lineage, as well. Among the most interesting of results are this one, which attempted to replicate what subject may have looked like at a previous point in her lifetime:
And this one, which… well, it is perhaps best observed for itself:
Also: Other… stories have begun emerging about subject. Written stories. Stories relying on text, generated both by AI and by humans.
These developments — the granting of motion to subject, which had previously been represented by purely static images; the expansion to other AI tools beyond image generation ones; the jump to human-created words and stories — are particularly concerning.
They show that subject is… spreading.
Subject is replicating not just via a single avenue, but by many.
The convergence towards Loabness has already begun.
And there may be no way of stopping it.
Supercompsite’s original Loab thread.
Matthew Skala’s thread explaining how Loab could happen.
“Approximate Furthest Neighbor with Application to Annulus Query” by Rasmus Pagh, Francesco Silvestri, Johan Sivertsen, and Matthew Skala.
Aspects of Metric Spaces in Computation by Matthew Skala.
“Why Does This Horrifying Woman Keep Appearing in AI-Generated Images?” at Vice Motherboard.
“AI Image Generator Births The Horrific ‘First Cryptid Of The Latent Space’” at PCGamer.
Follow The Ghost In My Machine on Twitter @GhostMachine13 and on Facebook @TheGhostInMyMachine. And don’t forget to check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available now from Chronicle Books!
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