These Birds Do Not Exist

Great Northern Oyster Cracker

The Tawny-Breasted Fishmonger

Lester's Finch

The Forbidden Duck

The Lesser Bobber

The Rabid Wood-chipper

Henson's Fractal

The Surly Drunkard

Spectacled Ringwraith

Headless Horseman

Eastern Grump


Turner's Hooch

Red-Breasted Eye-Poker

Giant-Headed Bug-Stabber

The False Moffat

Humpbacked Quail

Captain Falcon

The Interrupter

Warped Dangler

Biblically Accurate Grouse 

Monochrome Reedwacker

The Worst Shrek

Blue-Caped Buddy

The Flying Nudibranch (shown with chick)

Jerry's Neighbor

Lovely Lady

The Hostile Witness

The Sharpest Duck

Common Mussel Puncher

Marbled Slab

Hooting Balloon

Common Benchpress

Flagrant Scofflaw

Rusted Rooter

Wooden Spoon and False Wooden Spoon

The Freelance Bartender

The Whole Wheat Breadbox

The Burrowing Evildoer

The Flammable Finch

The Nasty Janet

The Painted Pest

The Dominant Dingus

The Bastard

The Belter

Cloud Strangler

Sailor's Moon

The Flightless Biff

Blue-Breasted Creek

Sudden Turkey

Behold Thine Own Sins Made Manifest Before You

Red Bunt

Tony's Hawk

Donedone, the past tense of Dodo

Dwayne The Flock Johnson

Definition of Terms

I'm saving a more detailed policy statement about AI image generators for a future post. For now, I just wanted to preserve my notes from earlier this year in case Twitter goes down. Note that I'm careful to use the term "image generator" rather than "art generator." I call the stuff that AI poops out "images" and leave it at that. I graduated from art school. I've had enough "what is art?" debate to last years. 

The Beginning

In the late winter of 2021, I first started playing around with AI image generators of all kinds. I was inspired by the light-hearted fun of Janelle Shane's AI Weirdness and wanted to explore this new tool myself. Hard to believe it now, but at the time I considered these image generators more like a weird toy than any existential threat to art itself. 

My immediate concern was the training corpus being so hidden to the front-end user. You had no idea how the AI was trained or what it was trained on. Still, with only a little work, you could find the famous photos that lurked somewhere in the training corpus.

I started looking at Colaboratory notebooks that I could train myself. I figured that if I knew where the images came from, I could be a little less nervous about accidentally infringing on a trademark. I trained an early version of LookingGlass on this curated collection of public domain ornithology illustrations sourced from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

The results are janky as hell, but also kind of hilarious. Since birds often appear in the context of flowers, leave, and branches, there were often some odd blends of all three. I'm surprised it didn't occur more often, to be honest. It's pretty good at knowing leaves and wings go together. The beaks and heads give it trouble though.

Given the widely varying morphology, I feel ill-equipped for judging the success of the AI's training. I just have a gut sense of what's "plausibly bird." The best I can do is like "Uh... Beak? Yeah, somewhere. Wings? At least 2. Funky plumage? Yep. Plausibly bird. Next!"

The Origins of STORK

I can have a juvenile sense of humor, so I started having fun making up names for these birds. Eventually I compiled some of these images into a jigsaw puzzle and other merch on my Society6 shop. 

I created a fictional world behind the images: The Society of Theoretical Ornithology, Research, and Knowledge (STORK) documented the rarest species of avians around the world, noting their behavior and ecological environs. Anyone who has followed me since publishing Belle of the Ball knows how much I enjoy writing lists of ridiculous names and short absurd blurbs. This was the perfect project to indulge that habit.

On a certain archipelago, the fertile phase of the "Nest fungus" mimics bird-shapes. Local birds investigate these mushrooms, dropping fresh guano for on the nutrient-poor rocks. Burred spores then attach to the bird's feathers to travel from island to island.

A selection of symbiotic fungii and their partner bird species. Note the dappling along the stalks and caps matches the partner's plumage. The birds seem to benefit from this relationship by coating their nests with potent scent that repels predators.

In due course, the line between fungus and avian begins to blur, with young chicks being indiscernible from their fungal counterparts. 

Branching Experiments

I did experiment with new settings that smoothed out the pixels, but the results felt more like vintage 1980s hotel wall art. It's charming in its own way, I suppose, but it didn't hold the same appeal to me as the more scientific-skewing illustrations.

I also tried mammals, fish, and chimera, but the results also didn't really have much appeal to me. Mammals in particular didn't have the same variety of color, but at the same time were too varied in morphology. So I got a lot of tripedal furry creatures with bland, greyish fur.

Perhaps 1 in every 50 outputs were completely alien. I think the preponderance of legs, trunks, and tails in the training data confused the AI, so it just made these tentacled horrors.

Occasionally it was just a long snoot.

And that's basically it. I had no greater aim for this experiment than to have some fun and make some weird mutants. 

Faith Plummets

I tried using newer generators as they arose in mid-2022, but none had the homespun charm of the AI that I had trained myself. The more advanced they generators became, the less weird the birds. Furthermore, the newest generators presented even more conundrums and egotism that soured me on the whole notion of even toying with AI anymore. These results were from the Dall-E generator in early July.

Even the AI I trained myself wasn't without its own problems. I was naive and didn't understand at the time that the LookingGlassAI already had some pre-training before I added my own dataset. There were no humans in my data set, yet LookingGlassAI occasionally insisted on trying to make human forms. Some of these are actually quite gothic and haunting. Nevertheless, it made clear that even this seemingly more-ethical AI option wasn't safe from risk of infringement.

This became most evident when stock photo watermarks started appearing in some of my results! 


And so my last project using AI was "These Books Do Not Exist" jigsaw puzzle. I'm still mulling over what I will do with AI next, if anything. 

I've saved a bunch of LookingGlassAI outputs in this folder for posterity. Who knows what I'll do with them next, if anything. As I've come to realize, no AI-generated image is without legal risk, even if I make a transformative work like my posters and jigsaw puzzles. 

So for now I'm happy with the weird little birds that I made over a few weeks in January 2022. Making up names was fun. I hope this silly venture brings a little joy to your day as well.


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