A little machine dream of death and impermanence

The article Watching AI Slowly Forget a Human Face Is Incredibly Creepy: This time lapse of a neural network with the neurons slowly switching off is a haunting experiment in machine learning has a fascinating ~1 minute video showing a realistic face generated by machine learning “aging” and “dying” as the neural net is deliberately degraded.

Then the project’s creator, an artist who simply went by “the girl who talks to AI” in an email, said that the AI gradually shuts off individual neurons, repeating the process until the network effectively “forgets” what a face looks like.

The effect is pretty creepy. At first, it seems like the generated face is aging. Lines appears under her eyes and around the edges of her face, and her hair thins and fades. After a few seconds, something altogether different begins. Her skins turns a greenish hue, and her features begin to wash away as neurons continue to go dark. Within sixty seconds, she’s completely decomposed—nothing but a white and brown smudge.

“The inspiration behind the project is rooted in contemplation of human perception,” the creator said. “Everything we see is the brain’s interpretation of the surrounding world. A person has no access to the outside reality except for this constructed image.”

She compared this to how Claude Monet’s paintings shifted to blurred, muddled greens and yellows as he aged: Our eyes and brains and the networks that connect them undergo changes and deterioration that we might barely notice as it’s happening.


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@ArthurG This video made me think about some of my dream experiences. Many times when I interact with dream “zombies” (the dream figures who seem totally lifeless and dull in their existence within the dream) they often seem to “melt” - they almost decompose and change colors before collapsing into a “smudge” much in the same way this AI “forgets” this human face. How fascinating!

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Wow, that is fascinating, @Allison! I’ve been wondering how much this kind of “neural net decay” might be similar to processes that happen with our brains, which are also neural nets…


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