If only Dali was still alive to see this.
This month, Google wreaked havoc on the internet by releasing an algorithm that lets you render any image a terrifying dreamscape of psychedelic swirls and random dog faces. Naturally, everyone jumped at the chance to turn their selfies and cute cat pics into a computer’s acid trip. As more and more of these “Deep Dream” images began popping up online, people started to ask questions: Did Google create this code just to give the collective internet nightmares? Why are there so many slugs, dog faces, and creepy eyes everywhere? Over at Studio Beat we were wondering: what happens to art history greats when you give them the Deep Dream treatment?
As you might have already heard, Deep Dream wasn’t actually developed with the aim of creating surreal images. Google has been doing research into artificial neural networks for a while. Artificial neural networks are essentially the same thing as the neural networks inside human brains, but in the brains of machines. More accurately, they’re models of statistical learning. Rather like a parent teaching their baby a language by reading them a ton of children’s books, Google is teaching computers how to better recognise speech and images via exposure to many, many examples.
So how does all this result in acid trip-worthy images full of seemingly random dog faces? Because this algorithm, when given an image, works to recognise images within it (images it’s been trained to look for), and then tries to amplify them to be more recognisable. This is why Deep Dream creates eyes out of fields, intricate pagodas out of clouds, and dogs out of…well, pretty much everything.
Realising the artistic possibilities here, Google benevolently decided to share the Deep Dream code with the world, and now it can be applied to any image you like. The collective results do not disappoint. If you know a bit about computers, you can get even more creative by tweaking the images Deep Dream produces to reduce the rate of dog heads, random eyeballs, and so on. But why would you want to do that, when instead you can use Deep Dream to transform all of art history into a terrifying nightmare realm where gods have canine heads, beautiful women turn into monsters, flowers grow freakish faces, and Adam’s rocking a whole bunch of eyes coming out of his torso?
Digital artist Kyle McDonald has used the code to produce some incredible art history remixes—like the cover image of this article, based off of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Here are a few more of McDonald’s gems:
The Birth of Venus. Sandro Botticelli
The Garden of Earthly Delights. Hieronymus Bosch
The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo
And some more bizarre re-imaginings of the art world’s best, this time via Twitter user Brad Skaggs:
Irises. Vincent Van Gogh
Squares with Concentric Circles. Wassily Kandinsky
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande. Georges Seurat
Women Returning Home at Sunset. Katsushika Hokusai
If you’re feeling inspired to create your own terrifying computer-psychedelia, get Google’s Deep Dream code here. Alternatively, if figuring out the code itself is too daunting, check out one of the various websites which will Deep Dream-ify images for you. You just might have to wait a while for results—most of these sites have overloaded servers due to the scores of new users eagerly uploading pet photos and selfies every minute. Because who doesn’t want a warped, dog-face-covered portrait which will be unrecognisable to everyone except a computer algorithm?