The internet's new favorite toy is an artificial neural network that Google released last week in an effort to explain how computers see the world. It finds parts of a picture that look like something else—and the result is often real nightmare material, like disembodied eyes or the newly memed "puppyslug," emphasizing those images again and again until they're psychedelically superimposed over the original, kind of like a computer's version of the images people pick out of Rorchach inkblots or abstract paintings. Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit have run amok looking at what has come to be know as "computer dreams," remixing everything from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to typefaces to [link obviously NSFW] hardcore porn using code released on Github and on interfaces like DeepDream and deepdreamit.com.
In their original research paper on the subject, Google Research Lab used Edvard Munch's The Scream, Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand, and more classic artworks, but people—most prolifically, Twitter users Brad Skaggs, and the inevitable Deepdream Twitter bot—have been posting their own psychedelic remixes of classical artworks under the hashtag #deepdream. It's fascinating to see what a computer "sees" when it looks at the art that has captured our imaginations for centuries: The Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's Starry Night, and Magritte's Son of Man get a taste of abstract psychedlia, but abstract work like Jackson Pollock's No. 5 gains a surprisingly coherent new form.
Can we gain any insight into the true meaning of our favorite artworks from this approach to looking at them? Maybe, maybe not, but they sure are fun to look at.