Hype Spirals: On Recent Developments in CyberdemonologyThe CCRU would have loved Loab (if it had ever existed)
The world’s first Cybercryptid
Art created by artificial intelligence consistently trips over aesthetic hurdles that sees it tumble down into the uncanny valley. Swedish multimedia artist Supercomposite saw as much in their ventures down the AI-art generator rabbit hole, conjuring forth deformed human figures and distorted faces which reveal that while art AI understands the basics of human likeness - fleshy colours, curves and basic facial features - the algorithm itself cannot distinguish between the eerily familiar and the disgustingly malformed.
In a Twitter thread from early September last year, Supercomposite shared a discovery that has since had outlets like The Daily Mail talking about an algorithmically-generated demon living in strings of code. The thread itself is fascinating (albeit not for the faint of heart), showcasing the artist’s accidental discovery of a figure/entity that, once it came into being, now propagates itself through weighted biases inherent to the art generator’s process.
Certain AI art generators can be fed negative prompts, meaning it’ll use negative prompt weights. Essentially, this means that when the artist typed in ‘Brando::-1’ (in reference to Marlon Brando), the generator was prompted to create an image as different to the original prompt as possible. It’s an interesting thought experiment: what exactly would the AI depict as being the exact aesthetic opposite of the iconic Oscar-winning actor?
A strange, nonsensical logo of some kind was the algorithm’s answer. But when Supercomposite then used that image as a negative prompt - thereby urging to find that image’s opposite, making it the opposite of Marlon Brando’s image’s opposite - Loab appeared.
An elderly-looking woman with red cheeks, sunken features, and consistently expressing maliciousness in her gaze and body language, Loab elicits a guttural reaction. Given that she’s the product of AI, her facial proportions are always just a little off, giving her a sense of uncanniness usually reserved for wax figures or the masks the Wayans brothers wore in White Chicks. Loab isn’t pleasant to look at, and the situations she finds herself in don’t help, either.
She often appears in bleak, if not hellish landscapes reminiscent of abandoned buildings or dilapidated hospitals. If she’s in the company of another entity, that entity is often brutally mutilated and disfigured. Often, Loab herself is the injured one. She’s been the subject of numerous violent scenes in which her presence dominates. And, as her creator explains, her presence in the AI’s ‘imagination’ is incredibly consistent.
The Twitter Discourse, as always, took on a sardonically sceptic tone in describing the hype around Loab as simple hysterics. AI art generators could, after all, be described as a Silicon Valley technocrat’s attempt at doing away with pesky artists demanding commission and basic intellectual property rights. How could Loab, a product of a mechanism ostensibly designed to produce corny cyberpunk art and corporate logos, be taken seriously as something more than a simple aberration in the art generator’s lines of code? Busting the myth of Loab boils down to explaining away the inherent biases in AI art generation - or just calling it stupid in the first place.
But the Dazed article is onto something in approaching Loab as more than a ‘statistical accident’ or not worth consideration because she was created using AI.
‘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?’ 1 ︎
AI in itself is deeply esoteric - not just as a subject of study - in that once unleashed, its products are all-but unpredictable, if not totally chaotic. Loab’s genesis as a sort of anti-anti-Marlon Brando, funny as it is, could not have been predicted until the moment of her generation, making her existence less of a spontaneous popping into existence and more a looming presence having once only existed in the future. Indeed, Loab’s existence begs the question of what other eerie entities might lurk in the depths of algorithms, simply a set of prompts away.
Believing in Loab can’t be considered a superstition since she can be said to exist within the imagination of at least one AI generator - in other words, she can be counted real in the sense that her existence isn’t entirely dependent on the image of her. Loab exists somewhere in Supercomposite’s algorithm as an idea virus, and aberration of code undetectable by human minds but toxic to any generated image she comes into contact with. ‘The AI can latch onto the idea of Loab so well’ Supercomposite explains, ‘that she can persist through generations of [...] crossbreeding.’
Instead, she represents a subtle graduation from superstition (as somewhat irrational beliefs rooted in religion or the supernatural) to what the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at Warwick University called Hyperstition. Hyperstitions, essentially, are fictions which make themselves real through their own force. Couple this with the hype surrounded Loab and her infectious quality as a code demon, her summoning can further be considered a novel magical practice rooted in hyperstition instead of superstition.
The Chasm between Superstition and Hyperstition
A hyperstition, somewhat like a meme, may be an idea which seemingly exerts its own cultural force to spread and evolve rapidly. As Nick Land, one-time head of the CCRU (and who has since gone batshit crazy) explains in an interview:
‘Hyperstition is a positive feedback circuit including culture as a component. It can be defined as the experimental (techno-)science of self-fulfilling prophecies. Superstitions are merely false beliefs, but hyperstitions – by their very existence as ideas – function causally to bring about their own reality.’ 2 ︎
Hyperstitions, in other words, differ from superstitions in that they are widespread beliefs that exist due to the fact that they are believed in. Take capitalism and its inherent aspects like the money economy: ‘Capitalism incarnates hyperstitional dynamics at an unprecedented and unsurpassable level of intensity, turning mundane economic ‘speculation’ into an effective world-historical force.’ 3 The force inherent to capitalism, with its tendency towards market expansion and pervasiveness, can still be said to exist because swathes of workers, consumers and guys that lost a ton of money on NFTs believe in it.
This process of belief-becoming-reality, besides having magical connotations, is helped along by the memetics of modern information technology. The rise of the internet was of great interest to the CCRU, which saw in it a potential breeding ground for various hyperstitions that had yet to surface in traditional forums of idea exchange. This mode of thinking also imbues much of the CCRU’s writing with a prophetic tone, since theorising about the future may itself be a hyperstitional practice. For example, Nick Land saw in artificial intelligence more than just algorithms as a tool to conjure creepy images:
‘Scientific intelligence is already massively artificial. Even before AI arrives in the lab it arrives itself (by the way of artificial life).
Where formalist AI is incremental and progressive, caged in the pre-specified data-bases and processing routines of expert systems, connectionist and antiformalist AI is explosive and opportunistic: engineering time. It breaks out nonlocally across intelligenic networks that are technical but no longer technological, since they elude both theory dependency and behavioural predictability. No one knows what to expect. The Turing-cops have to model net-sentience irruption as ultimate nuclear accident: core meltdown, loss of control, soft-autoreplication, feeding regeneratively into social fission, trashed meat all over the palace. Reason enough for anxiety, even without hardware development about to go critical.’
AI, for Land, is seen as this ticking time bomb that will, inevitably, reach a critical point (called the technological singularity) in which it will gain sentience, defy all predictive models, and infect all code ever written. This ultimate crisis, akin to a nuclear accident, would be both chaotic and disastrous. Worse yet, the CCRU already saw hints of this back in the 90s. Now artificial entities living in cyberspatial environments are capable of infecting all code they touch.
Loab isn’t necessarily going to take over the AI art generator she was born into, nor is she going to gain sentience, take over the internet and make Terminator look like a documentary. But building off the CCRU’s thoughts about modern hyperstition - as that which has functionally succeeded the superstition of ye olden days of witch hunts and demons in the forest - and its vision of AI as an inherently chaotic entity, Loab may be taken as another sign of fast-approaching hyperstition, a fiction which makes itself real by infecting algorithms to produce more images of itself for the AI generator to refer back to. Just as when an AI art generator is prompted to produce an image of a red car, it draws on thousands of pre-existing images to refer to, synthesising them into novel images that themselves then become part of the repertoire of reference images. As such, every time Loab is generated, she becomes more real in the sense that the algorithm has more reference images of her, therefore crystallising her ideal form.
Algomantic Idea Viruses
Loab, as a hyperstitional entity, is an idea virus, an entity which spreads through real- and cyberspace through her own force as a creepy phenomenon emerging out of nominally unpredictable algorithms. But her infectious quality isn’t just expressed in her promulgation through an AI art generator’s code. Really, the compulsion to write about Loab - and to categorise her a hyperstitional entity - is itself an expression of that force which makes fiction real. Hyperstition can’t be written without ‘hype’, and the fact that the Twitter thread unveiling her did numbers (70k+ likes as of writing) is testament to how she makes herself real by uncanny appeal alone.
Numerous articles in hip online tech magazines and even the Daily Mail reported of the first real cyberdemon, and, as the CCRU itself proclaimed:
‘Hype, hyping, hyperpropagation belongs to a strain of time-warp cybernetic fiction that cannot be judged to be true or false because it makes itself real. Trawl through the nether regions of Cyberspace and the Crypt-influence is vivid’ 4 ︎
Scouring the imaginations of dead-but-dreaming algorithms to produce idea viruses can be counted as a kind of magical practice, not dissimilar to ancient divinatory practices for seeing into the future. Just as with osteomancy, where a fortune teller casts a handful of bones onto a surface to foretell the future, algomancy could be a novel term to describe the search for entities within complex code that, for all intents and purposes, can be said to already exist. 5 But instead of being rooted in superstition, folklore or religion, it’s based in hyperstition, where the idea itself attains its own momentum independently.
This article itself is thus part of the Loab hyperstition, a memetic medium which spreads her malign being and even argues that she is more than a statistical accident. The power of her fictitiousness makes people want to believe that she, along with numerous other entities, may be lurking in the dreaming minds of still-primitive artificial intelligences - therefore making her real in the minds of many.
cover artwork by Daria Canta
image 2 – Supercomposite
image 3 – Prompt: Tukutu (Killer-Kate). Cosmotraumatics. Pitch Cth-4 Net Span 9::5 Amphidemon of Death-Strokes. Decadology. C/tp-#9, Mn- [9D]. Rt-1: Crash-signals (barkerian scarring). [+1 sub-Rt]. From the CCRU’s Pandemonium.
1 – The whole article is worth checking out.
2 - link.
3 - ibid.
4 - link.
5 - There’s a wealth of different kinds of -mancies whose purpose is to tell the future by mundane and unpredictable means.