Saturday, May 2, 2020

These AI-generated coronavirus memes are better than human-generated ones

It’s official: The coronavirus quarantine may have well and truly made the concept of a “meme” obsolete. For proof, look no further than “This Meme Does Not Exist,” a meme-creation tool created by meme-template website Imgflip.

At a glance, it looks like your average random assortment of meme templates. But these memes aren’t actually “real.” They’re being created on the spot by a neural network, an artificial intelligence (AI) that predicts what it thinks a meme might look like. You can let the network generate a random meme for you, or you can preselect your meme from one of many popular templates, from Mocking SpongeBob to the Gatsby toast.

The tool is not to be confused with other meme generators, which merely curate existing popular memes. No, this generator uses its data about memes that do exist to conjure up memes that don’t exist. If you’re not familiar with a neural network, it’s basically a computer that uses an algorithmic technique known as deep learning. The computer gorges itself on a lot of data and then teaches itself, through lots of repetition, how to predict what that data should look like. Neural networks have made great strides in recent years, giving us everything from fake movies to fake articles and, of course, fake porn.

Basically, Imgflip’s neural network processed a lot of memes and then tried to predict what memes should look like. The results are often hilarious, and they certainly feel like real memes. For instance, here’s the first thing the AI generated when I asked it to show me an example of the “Is This a Pigeon?” meme:

And take this iteration of the Distracted Boyfriend meme. It’s honestly hard for me to believe that a computer artificially generated this, not a frustrated kid stuck at home with their well-meaning but stifling mother for much longer than nature would normally allow:

Honestly, it’s okay to want a change of company. Imgflip
In fact, some of the memes — which identify themselves as AI-generated with a tiny watermark at the bottom, in case you get confused — are jaw-droppingly on point:

Okay, now the neural network is just mocking me. Imgflip
Other memes, however, wildly miss the mark and make little to no sense. But hilariously, that also makes them feel memetic — because after all, many memes draw upon their nigh-nonsensical Dadaist leanings to gain new meaning from their new contexts. So a meme like this one, generated by the neural network, still seems like a real meme:

Who among us can’t relate? Imgflip
It’s hardly surprising, then, that between the novelty of a fake-meme generator, its eerie ability to capture our moods, and our current collective boredom, the meme generator itself has gone viral. Over the last week, posts collecting some of the funniest AI-generated memes have made the rounds on social media.