As should be obvious, some of the following images are pretty unpleasant. So is the idea that a computer is generating them on purpose to horrify humans. Scroll with that in mind.
The Nightmare Machine is a project out of MIT Media Lab, spearheaded (or spear-faced?) by researchers Pinar Yanardag, Manuel Cebrian and Iyad Rahwan. It is a deep learning program that generates imagery of human faces with the intent to be as upsetting as possible for a human audience. If, like me, you harbor great interest and enormous skepticism about our AI enabled future, this should rustle your jimmies a bit.
As interest and capability in the AI field grows, many machine learning projects have emphasized learning geared towards positive machine-human interactions and provoking pleasant emotional responses. Relatability and realism have generally gone hand in hand with the aim of agreeable interactions. This team considered staying in that vein, but chucked it out in favor of a Halloween season idea: how can AI be used to intentionally inspire fear?
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Starting with hundreds of thousands of photos of humans (largely celebrities) and a deep convolutional generative adversarial network, they taught the algorithm how to produce faces. Then they spooked it up a few notches by adding learning based on images of zombies. The outcome is sets of faces that are then ranked by scariness and fed back into the mill. As the data has grown based on human user input, trends have popped up that indicate certain themes in scariness. Blood, it turns out, is pretty upsetting.
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Though it first debuted around Halloween of 2016 the project is still running and (some might say) more relevant than ever. You can personally help teach the algorithm, and help yourself towards nightmares, by ranking a set of faces on the Nightmare Machine's project website. Your input promotes fascinating research into both human and AI cognition—or perhaps, as everyone's favorite tech evangelist, Elon Musk, has mused, it will speed up the awakening of a demon.