What I Learned from Loab: AI as a creative adversary

The artist behind the viral cryptid "Loab" reflects on her critical relationship to AI art tools

Steph Maj Swanson

Playlists: '37c3' videos starting here / audio

In this talk, artist/writer Steph Maj Swanson will use the story of how her AI-generated character "Loab" arose (and went viral) as a jumping off point to present creative work and strategies that emerged from attempts to crack AI black boxes open. Aligned with the hacker ethos of exploration, experimentation and creative misuse, this talk presents adversarial artmaking practices for AI systems. It will also explore what it means to engage in cultural production today, as new forms of automation and centralization loom over the arts and entertainment industries. In the words of Nam June Paik: "I use technology in order to hate it more properly."

Steph Maj Swanson, a.k.a. Supercomposite, is a multimedia artist and writer best known for her story about the AI-generated woman Loab, which The Atlantic dubbed “a form of expression that has never existed before." Loab is an emergent character that arises in certain AI image synthesis models, accessible via negatively weighted prompts, often appearing alongside macabre imagery such as dismembered women and children.

Swanson views her relationship to AI as adversarial, both in her creative process and as a commentator. This non-technical, but conceptual talk offers up art alongside possible strategies. It will be of interest for hackers intrigued by the creative potential of these tools, but who may have ethical concerns or doubts about the way these tools are assembled, built, and deployed.

Galleries West described Swanson’s body of AI-generated visual work as “the merging of repulsive with beautiful,” and The Washington Post called her satirical AI writing “disturbing”. At DefCon this year she debuted her short film SUICIDE III, which uses deepfakes of Joe Biden and Sam Altman to explore where an out-of-control AI hype cycle might take us.


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