Two of the MIT researchers behind the provocative Deep Angel project, an algorithm that digitally erases objects from photos, have now delivered a strange and beautiful system to "conjure phantasms into being."
According to the project developers Matt Groh and Ziv Epstein, the phantasmagoric AI Spirits manifested by their code are meant to "commemorate those missing via algorithmic omission."
"In AI and robotics, we talk a lot about "the uncanny valley," where stuff is human-like enough to make it seem plausible, but small deviations from our expectation of humans lead to a very creepy result," Epstein writes in an email to me. "AI Spirits in particular explores this uncanny valley by actually leaning into and appreciating the erroneous, distorted and bizarre output of these deep neural nets…"
Where Deep Angel is tasked with removing people from images, Groh and Epstein fed all of that image data into AI Spirits so it could learn how to insert rough, but believable, approximations of people. Spirits, you might say.
"This model maps scenes with missing people to scenes with people. So, it is not exactly detecting humans and altering them to glitched out spirits. Instead, it's a process of disappearing humans and then reimagining humans from what it knows about people in images," writes Groh in an email.