Where Sasquatch hunters and Nessie truthers meet Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a new character has entered the urban legend zeitgeist and will shortly be headlining your bad acid trips. Meet Loab, the so-called “first cryptid of the latent space” and probably what Slender Man has nightmares about.
According to the character’s creator, a Swedish musician who goes by the all-too-appropriate moniker of Supercomposite, the AI-generated demon emerged from their experiments with a series of “negative prompt weights,” which encourage artificial intelligence to put together the furthest opposite of a given starting point. A Twitter mega-thread by Supercomposite traces the first appearance of Loab in April of this year, responding to a reverse of a reverse prompt about Marlon Brando. The birth of Loab was, according to Supercomposite, a fairly banal logo produced by the negatively weighted prompt “Brando::-1.”
“I wondered: is the opposite of that logo, in turn, going to be a picture of Marlon Brando?” wrote Supercomposite. “I typed “DIGITA PNTICS skyline logo::-1” as a prompt. I received these off-putting images, all of the same devastated-looking older woman with defined triangles of rosacea(?) on her cheeks.”
In what Supercomposite characterizes as “a true horror story,” Loab emerged as a kind of latent space haint, continually cropping up in more and more images, as her creator — or perhaps the better term is “summoner” — continues to collaborate with the AI to explore Loab’s world.
For the record, Loab’s world is, uh, pretty bad.
The next turn seemed to come when Supercomposite combined one of the first Loab images with a friend’s image prompt that created a “hyper compressed glass tunnel surrounded by angels” in the style of Wes Anderson. This seems to have sparked a visual canon that looks like mood boards for Anderson’s imaginary turn as guest director of American Horror Story.
Supercomposite attributes this to “some kind of emergent statistical accident,” which makes Loab “adjacent to extremely gory and macabre imagery in the distribution of the AI’s world knowledge.” It’s interesting how a collective intelligence that has already proven itself to be prone to sexism (and racism) due to human bias attaches horror to the idea of a middle-aged woman with skin issues being haunted by reproductive pressure. The preponderance of children and gore that surrounds Loab — not to mention Supercomposite’s original description of her as a “devastated-looking older woman” betray a faint penumbra of the unquestionable ageism, sexism, and repro-normativity rooted in a culture that has basically always discriminated against women, and is most recently attempting to return uterus-bearing members of society to a forced-birth state.
Is it possible that Loab, much like the Salem witches, is just a handy moniker to slap on anything that centralizes a female character who doesn’t do what society commands her to do — including staying forever young, adhering to a skincare routine, and devoting herself to the care of children?
I mean, okay, Loab is pretty bad. But she might also just be a woman living her life. And, to quote the great Regina George, why are you so obsessed with her?
Certainly, Supercomposite has found an unlikely muse in Loab, generating thousands of Loab images at this point, and seems devoted to exploring the full parameters of her existence. It bears mentioning that, much like other kinds of cryptids, the presence of Loab can be amplified and fabricated by human participation — even more so in the digital realm than in the physical world. Perhaps these Loab images are the online equivalent of false Bigfoot-prints, generating their own mythology and setting it loose to propagate. Or perhaps Loab is a true demon, summoned from the deep and now infecting my personal computer and the Hyperallergic mainframe. Perhaps the true horror is that conferred upon middle-aged women, casting them as the rotting zombie ghosts of society. Either way, it’s a good time to invest in bleach, because sales will surely be on the rise as we all try to remove images of Loab from our eyes.