‘If we want to get rid of her, it’s already too late’
The internet has spawned no shortage of contemporary cryptids – haunting, hidden beings shrouded in folklore, from Slender Man, to Momo, to the mysterious “entities” that stalk the murky yellow corridors of the Backrooms. These are all characters or creatures that have been dreamt up in the imaginations of human beings, before taking on a life of their own online, spread via forum posts, arcane video essays, and esoteric memes. Their origins aren’t easy to trace at the best of times, but what if the human element was removed altogether?
Last week, the Sweden-based musician and artist Supercomposite claimed to have stumbled across one of these beings, while messing around with an AI image-generating software (which, for various reasons, she refuses to disclose) back in April. “Originally it was a project of exploration,” she says. What she didn’t expect to find was a recurring image of a withered older woman with long dark hair, deep-set, watery eyes, and distinguishable triangles of rosacea on her cheeks. Supercomposite named her Loab.
She was even more surprised, though, when she fed images of the woman back into the machine, to witness an overwhelming trend of violence and gore among the results. In some, Loab is gaunt and desiccated like a mummy, blood dripping from her fingers. In others, her face ruptures and swells as if she’s suffered a terrible accident. Sometimes, she is accompanied by small, childlike forms, among other recognisable horror imagery.
“I don't feel comfortable posting the most disturbing ones, borderline snuff images of dismembered, screaming children,” Supercomposite writes on Twitter, alongside two particularly grotesque posts concealed by content warnings.
Unlike the internet legends that came before her, Loab wasn’t formed in any single human mind. Instead, she was born in the ‘imagination’ of an AI image generator. “Imagine that the different concepts that the AI ‘knows’ about are drawn on a map, where ideas that are related cluster near to each other,” Supercomposite explains. “That's what we call the latent space. When you enter a prompt, like ‘Marlon Brando’, you basically tell the AI to walk towards the area of the latent space where the concept of Marlon Brando-ness is. It's optimising the image for maximum Brando-ness.”
Back in April, however, Supercomposite was experimenting with “negatively weighted prompts” – in other words, she asked the AI to produce the farthest possible image from the concept of Marlon Brando. “Negative prompt weights can have very strange effects and I wanted to explore areas of the AI’s data distribution that might be anomalous,” she says. The negative Marlon Brando prompt completely left the area of the latent space where the concept of humans and faces reside, and the AI spat out a “gibberish logo of a city skyline”.
Then, Supercomposite wondered what would happen if she asked for the furthest image from that – would it loop back around to a photo of Marlon Brando? In short, no: it summoned Loab, the stuff of nightmares. More specifically, the process resulted in four images featuring Loab against various backdrops, including an album cover-style image with a title that gave Loab her name. They’re mostly fairly normal-looking; it’s when Loab was blended with other image prompts that things really started to get grisly.
What did Supercomposite do, in the wake of this “discovery”? Well, following in the footsteps of believers in real-life cryptids such as Bigfoot and little green men, she swiftly generated some merch (apparently someone out there is already rocking a Loab-themed mini skirt). However, she also continued to experiment with the first Loab picture, mixing it with different prompts to create the unsettling images on her Twitter timeline.
“It’s super weird how cohesive [Loab] is,” she notes. “If you take an image of a celebrity and ask an AI to make variations of it without saying who it is, it often doesn’t do a great job; you get distorted people, who look kind of like the celebrity but not quite. But when you put Loab in, it reproduces Loab perfectly most of the time, with the shape of her cheeks and the shade of her skin, her expression.” Then, of course, there’s the gory hellscape she inhabits: “When you combine her images with other harmless images, it’s not uncommon for her to reappear mutilated or bleeding out of her eyes or neck.”
Despite the demonic tinge to the Loab photos, of course, there are naysayers – the Agent Scullys to the Mulders of the Twitter timeline, if you will. These experts seek to dispel the claim that Supercomposite has laid eyes on the first cryptid of the latent space – or that Loab “haunts every image she touches”, moving through the space like a virus – using computer science and high-dimensional geometry. Ironically, these myth-busting explanations often sound as mysterious as the rites and rituals for summoning a real demon, describing a disembodied being dragged from the brains of millions of human artists, floating in space until someone finds the right combination of words to summon it. If that isn’t demonic, then what is?
In the end, though, even Supercomposite herself admits: “Loab isn’t really haunted, of course.” The more interesting question, perhaps, is how the Loab myth formed so quickly, and why. “It feels super strange, but cool, for it to take off like this, with people calling it a creepypasta,” she adds.
But should we be surprised? If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the rise of AI has put us more out of touch with the reality of modern technology than ever before. Everything from our shopping habits, to the images we see, to the way we interact with one another, is guided by invisible algorithms that regular people have no hope of understanding. It almost seems inevitable that we’d started to tell ourselves stories to simplify these processes, just like ancient civilisations made gods out of the stars. Loab isn’t actually an undead creature sent to haunt us, but could she be part of a new form of mythmaking, embedded with our fears about the boundless imagination of AI?
“The weirdest part is that future AIs will see everyone’s pictures and memes of Loab now,” says Supercomposite. “So they’ll start making even more Loabs. If we want to get rid of her, it’s already too late.”
🧵: I discovered this woman, who I call Loab, in April. The AI reproduced her more easily than most celebrities. Her presence is persistent, and she haunts every image she touches. CW: Take a seat. This is a true horror story, and veers sharply macabre. pic.twitter.com/gmUlf6mZtk— Supercomposite (@supercomposite) September 6, 2022