Machine learning systems have gotten extremely good at generating stock imagery from just a few bits of text. AI tools like Open AI’s DALL-E have quickly become a favorite among artists, allowing them to generate extremely specific and surreal images by typing things like “cats playing chess in space” or “shrimp sitting on a park bench contemplating life.”
Artist David O’Reilly took this even further, using the generative systems to create an entire animated children’s cartoon called “Bartak.” The result is a storybook-esque nightmare world that feels like the machine learning equivalent of being lobotomized. Characters’ faces melt into digital oblivion while a chipper AI-generated voice narrates the “story” in an extremely unsettling non-language that sounds like a Disney Channel host speaking in tongues.
O’Reilly, a 3D artist who is well-known for creating these kinds of disturbing animations, describes the short as a “sneak peak” of a series that uses “the awesome power of AI to create the perfect kid’s entertainment.” In an Instagram post, O’Reilly claims that a “full season order of 75,000 episodes is now being generated”—which may or may not be true, given his track record of unsettling one-off provocations. (O’Reilly could not be reached for comment)
DALL-E and other natural language processing systems are known for their ability to generate uncannily accurate results. Previous systems like GPT-3, which is frequently used by chatbots, have been used to create AI dungeon text adventures and even occult rituals that feel disturbing realistic—so much so that it’s often difficult to distinguish the system’s output from a real human.
Researchers have found that these systems are also prone to generating results that reproduce racist and sexist stereotypes. In an analysis of DALL-E, Open AI’s researchers found that typing things like “CEO” would exclusively generate images of white men, while typing “nurse” would produce images of Southeast Asian women.
As a weird art project, O’Reilly’s use of the tool seems relatively benign, however. And his fans seem to be in on the joke.
“It’s really inspiring to see how well Bartak has helped my kids understand the world around them, and taught me how to be a better parent!” writes one Instagram commenter of the extremely cursed cartoon. “My kids are so much smarter as a result. You want to see the excitement in their eyes, especially at the hands of a show like this.”