Question Asked By Vince on October 20, 2022
A tweet posted on October 18, now shared more than 50,000 times, has left more than one Internet user in awe. “What happens when you ask an AI to generate ‘human evolution’? It’s terrifying”, declares the author of the message, inviting to launch a video of about forty seconds. On haunting synthesizer music (the title Solitude by the duo Felsmann + Tiley) then scrolls through a sequence of great strangeness, made up of a succession of drawings that blend into each other.
The first image is that of a macaque, which is transformed into a succession of other monkeys, then into various hominids which are supposed to be representatives of Homo sapiens. Then, from prehistoric man, we move quickly to profiles dressed in armour.
If we except a few graphic anomalies (appearance of a third hand, a third leg, cup of coffee in the hand of the monkeys supposed to represent the ancestors of humans…), we are so far in a fairly classic representation and naïve of “human evolution” (naive and false: macaques are not our ancestors, but share with us a common ancestor who existed several million years ago).
The rest of the sequence presents a contemporary man, hood on his head and smartphone in hand, who soon turns into a woman whose limbs are mechanical prostheses. Different types of cyborgs follow one another, of which only the face and the hands still remain organic. Then the mechanical substitution is complete, and the exterior covering of the body becomes more and more uniform. The face becomes a helmet with a visor, before it turns into a hideous mouth, with long slender teeth. The half “creature of the lagoon”, half xenomorph being of the series Alien, continues its grotesque mutations to no longer look like a mixture of fluted tubes and pipes, which themselves become pure geometric shapes.
A video capable of creating perfect unease, as much by its soundtrack, its graphic style, as by the representation made of the “future of humanity”. But is this really the idea that an “artificial intelligence” has of our future? Is it a prediction based on statistical forecasts? An extrapolation based on the representations available in the iconography of science fiction, in which a computer would have gone to draw at will?
In reality, the role of artificial intelligence is limited here to translating the detailed description of numerous scenes into a drawing, given by a human being. The author? The Swiss artist Fabio Comparelli who published this sequence on his Instagram account October 2. To make this video, he used the program Midjourneywhich produces images from textual descriptions (on the same principle as the program Slab developed by the OpenAI company, or the site Crayon). If artificial intelligence holds the virtual paintbrush and offers a representation based on Fabio Comparelli’s descriptions, these statements and the link created between them are indeed those of the human operator. Programs such as Midjourney are trained to transcribe words into pictures by analyzing massive amounts of images available online.
Faced with the success of the tweet which resumes its creation, Fabio Comparelli split froma series of posts on Instagram. At first, he denounces the fact that the video is taken without mentioning his name. He is alarmed that the tweet is relayed by various influential accounts, in particular that of the ex-CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey. Noting that many accounts are reproducing the same tweet, he says: “My video is going viral everywhere! Please, if you want to share it, mention my name, and don’t write “Here’s what happens when you ask an artificial intelligence to predict human evolution”. It may scare some people, and scare people, who will actually believe that [ce qui est montré] will happen. I clearly influenced and told the artificial intelligence what type of images I wanted, and when. It’s just the result of my imagination… Yes, I really like science fiction!”
In response to these messages – and the many disapproving comments from Internet users – the account behind the first viral tweet published a second tweet quoting the artist’s name and linking to his Instagram account. But without relaying the creator’s warning about the faulty interpretation conveyed by the viral message.