". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Viral ‘AI Demon’ Says More about Ourselves Than Anything Else

July 6, 2024

Steph Swanson, known by the username Supercomposite, had little idea what she was about to unleash when she typed the words “Brando::-1” into an image-generating AI tool. Swanson was experimenting with negative prompt weights, a process that creates images that are supposedly the opposite of a typed description. AI’s concept of Marlon Brando’s counterpart was innocent enough: a logo-esque button with the words “Digitas Pntics” on a silhouetted skyline. Swanson then retyped these words back into the generator, curious if another negative prompt would revert back to Marlon Brando.

It didn’t.

Instead, four unsettling images of an older woman appeared. Her face wore an inhuman expression of sadness or despair, accentuated by reddish cheeks and disfigured eyes. Each version showed this character as the main subject with other distorted elements in the background, such as uneven wooden planks or strange humanoid dolls or objects. One image had text on the top edge, inspiring Swanson to name this character “Loab” (pronounced “Lobe”).

Swanson was surprised. “Even if you describe a person in a positive prompt … you get people that match that description, but you don’t get literally the same person…I immediately recognised this is an anomaly.”Multiple reiterations of the prompt produced a woman with the same distinct cheeks and mournful demeanor. But when Swanson blended a base image of Loab with other pictures, things spiraled downward.

Graphic horror ensued as Loab emerged again and again, sometimes covered in blood or surrounded by screaming children and maimed bodies. Gore and darkness persisted across the generated images with this Loab-like character taking center stage. Swanson kept blending new pictures with the base image of Loab until the woman almost faded away, only to return in later images.

Swanson took to X with her findings. “I discovered this woman, who [sic] I call Loab, in April. The AI reproduced her more easily than most celebrities. Her presence is persistent, and she haunts every image she touches.” Since this viral post swept the web in 2022, people have described this AI-generated character as anything from “almost lonely” to the “first cryptid of the latent space” to “the AI demon.” One X user posted:

“In the 13 hours since the Loab thread dropped:
– she’s become a queer icon
– people unironically believe she’s a demon
– she’s been analyzed as evidence of multiple different types of bias in AI
– people are calling for a Loab movie
& all of that fits the Loab mythos perfectly.”

A Window into Worldview

Amidst the varied responses to Loab are those who embrace her as an unexplored art form that “represents a new era of creativity we may or may not be ready for.”

In some ways, they’re right. Loab serves as a troubling manifestation of our heart’s attraction to darkness. As fallen creatures, we’re drawn toward the opposite of the good, true, and beautiful (John 3:19). The artist herself reveals, “There is something moving to me about these grotesque scenes and the desperation, panic, and sadness that they convey.” The fact that Loab has both her own Wikipedia page and fan art evidences a fascination with morbidity.

Artistic expression (and by extension, AI-generated images) reflects the values and ideas of the artist or creator, which is usually indicative of the culture in which he or she lives. Regardless of whether we recognize it or not, our art creations reveal our worldview. Apologist Francis Schaeffer put it this way: 

“Even those works which were constructed under the principle of art for art’s sake often imply a world view. Even the world view that there is no meaning is a message. In any case, whether an artist is conscious of the world view or not, to the extent that it is there it must come under the judgment of the Word of God.”

Consider how easily Swanson could have deleted the images and restarted with a different prompt. But she didn’t. Instead, she realized the system’s revolting bend toward the macabre and then shared the unsightly results, encouraging viewers to “check back for your daily Loab sighting.”

A Christian Aesthetic

As Christians, our creations need to reflect a biblical understanding of the world. This is not to say Christian art is confined to overtly religious pieces, or that all artistic portrayals of our sinful state are wrong. Rather than accentuating the grotesque and the evil, we should present them in proper proportion.

Schaeffer calls this process the “major” (the good and the beautiful) and “minor” (the sinful and wretched) themes of art. He writes,

“Notice that the Christian and his art have a place for the minor theme because man is lost and abnormal and the Christian has his own defeats. … But the Christian and his art don’t end there. Life goes on to the major theme because there is an optimistic answer. This is important for the kind of art Christians are to produce.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with minor themes. In fact, the writers of Scripture wrestled with these very topics. Famines devastated lands, disease consumed populations, brothers murdered each other, and kings sacrificed their children in debased rituals. The Bible’s pages are lined with stories of betrayal, heartbreak, corruption, exploitation, and other bitter tragedies.

But minor themes never have the last word.

In his infinite wisdom, God used the tragedy of a cruel and unjust death to shatter sin’s grip on the world and restore us to himself. Through Christ’s atoning blood, redemption is freely offered to all who repent and believe. It’s a strange paradox: God used death (minor theme) to bring life (major theme). Relatedly, the more we recognize our “minor-ness,” the more we realize the beauty of Christ’s work. The minor theme drives us to the major theme.

Schaeffer reminds us that this proper balance of major and minor themes is essential to the Christian aesthetic. Therefore, any collection of work that consistently skews toward either theme falls short of portraying the greater reality.

Generating with Intentionality

Christian artists should be intentional in artistic expression, regardless of medium. As we experiment with these ever-developing AI tools, we should strive to balance both realities. After all, we play a role in what we generate.

But there’s a complication. Unlike physical tools such as paintbrushes or styluses, AI image generators aren’t directly tied to the artist’s technical skill. Even with careful prompt wording, an artist doesn’t have full control over the images the tool will generate. Thus, Christians should be conscientious of major and minor themes during the process of selection, rejection, and finetuning of each iteration.

Philippians 4:8 is a useful starting point for analyzing themes in our generated creations. Is the picture excellent? Is it pure? Is it lovely? Likewise, we evaluate the minor themes through the lens of a biblical worldview. Does the image portray the reality of the fall? Does it point to the truth of our sinful condition? Does it depict evil without glorifying it? Of course, no single image will embody all characteristics–rather it is the collection of the images (what Schaeffer terms our “body of work”) that displays a comprehensive worldview.

Looking at Ourselves in the Mirror

Loab and her subsequent iterations didn’t emerge from a vacuum. As AI-generated pictures, they were pieced together from a blend of images, graphics, and other things humans created. Loab is a reflection of the dark side of humanity—the angst and depravity of a sinful world. She embodies the minor themes—abnormality, depression, hopelessness—but neglects the major themes. Instead of being rejected or put within proper context, she was ultimately embraced. 

Loab demonstrates our culture’s fascination with the “minor-ness” of our world. Humanity is drawn to the darkness and the mystery behind it because, in some ways, the rawness is intriguing. The world relates to corruption and decay because it speaks to our spiritual emptiness. And yet, people are sometimes startled to find glimpses of Loab inside: life without meaning, a creature without redemption, a soul without Christ.

But there lies the purpose of the minor theme. It reveals our vile condition and forces us away from ourselves. Its true objective is to point us to the Major Theme: the One who makes all things new, the God who promises to wipe away every tear and banish death and pain, the Messiah, who through shedding his blood on a cross, now extends forgiveness to sinners.

Christian creations should hold both themes in hand. Yes, there’s pain and suffering and agony in this life. But there’s more. Much more. Our worldview champions the beauty and hope and majesty found in Christ. He has given us a major theme: the forgiveness of our sins, restoration with God, and blessings beyond all we could ask or think. May all our works reflect this glorious reality.

This article was originally published by Christ Over All. Used with permission.