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#algohorror

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In 2015, a team from the University of Tübingen published really neat algorithm that uses a deep neural network to copy a painting style and apply it to your favorite photo.

A bit like Google’s trippy Deep Dream project but “with the craziness toned down a little bit” is how Quartz reported it. Instead of reinterpreting everything as dogs at a psytrance festival on a beach in Goa,  it copied stylistic elements like brushstrokes and lines.

I thought it was cool, but it didn’t look like it had many applications beyond stylizing your photos. Then in 2017 user vic8760 posted this incredible image on Reddit.

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Morph of Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon by u/vic8760

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User vic8760 had repurposed the German team’s style transfer algorithm. They didn’t apply a striking art style to a target image, but used two paintings that were fairly similar in style: a neoclassical portrait of Napoleon, and a High Renaissance painting of a crowd scene (Raphael?). Instead, they transposed the content by replacing most of Napoleon and his steed with drapery.

The result is an image that doesn’t just caricature a well-known art style—it pioneers an art style of its own. One that’s distinctly algorithmish. 

I started experimenting with this content-transposition approach on the cool free platform deepart.io (go try it for yourself!) I soon discovered the results could be deeply unsettling—not so much an uncanny valley as an endless, Lovecraftian abyss.

Gizmodo and the German geek culture blog Nerdcore plus a couple other places picked up the story and republished a few of these.

We maybe need a name for this kind of stuff that is not only scary but differently scary from human-created imagery — I’ve suggested algo-horror. Check out my Twitter account @algohorror where I post and retweet similar kinds of stuff. I’ll be writing a post on the aesthetics of this genre soon.

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