A Nightmare Face Is Haunting AI Art, And There’s A Reason We Shouldn’t Look Away

She’s out there somewhere, lurking in a parallel universe of possibilities. All you have to do to summon her into being is type the right prompt into an AI image generator.

Like a digital incantation, the words will reveal the eerie face of a middle-aged woman with dead eyes, a vacant stare, and a disturbing grimace.

Her name is Loab (pronounced like ‘lobe’), and she was “discovered” by a Swedish-based artist who goes by the name of Supercomposite on Twitter.

Supercomposite is among the first wave of modern creators to explore the realms of text-to-image AI generators. This year, while experimenting with negative prompts (which ask machine learning algorithms to find the extreme opposite of something), the artist stumbled across a creepy face.

When Supercomposite ran the prompt again, they said the same woman came back, this time next to the word ‘loab’.

“The AI reproduced her more easily than most celebrities. Her presence is persistent, and she haunts every image she touches,” Supercomposite wrote on Twitter in a September 2022 thread about Loab’s discovery.

“Take a seat. This is a true horror story and veers sharply macabre.”

With a hook like that, it’s no wonder Loab proceeded to take the internet by storm. The image of this mysterious woman is now so well-known she even has her own Wikipedia page.

🧵: 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

Part of Loab’s mystery is what she represents. Loab’s figure has become a sort of modern-day ‘tronie‘ – a type of artform from the Dutch Golden Age that exaggerates the expression of a face – one that doesn’t represent a person but an idea.

The allegory of Loab is just a bit more terrifying than, say, the subject of the more famous tronie titled Girl With A Pearl Earring. More profoundly, it wasn’t made by a human artist who can tell us more about the idea they were trying to represent.

Among the hundreds of Loab iterations Supercomposite has summoned into being, many feature dismembered or screaming children in the background. Some AI-generated images were so grotesque that the artist decided not to share them publicly.

“I was ripping Loab apart and putting her back together. She is an emergent island in the latent space that we don’t know how to locate with text queries,” writes the artist on Twitter.

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