Earlier this week, Facebook power user Mark Zuckerberg posted a video of his dog, Beast, rendered in an impressionistic style. He (the dog, not Zuckerberg) just licks his lips and looks to the side, but the image is still striking: grass drawn in fine lines of pale green and soft yellow, and long, straggly fur, scanning almost as white chalk. A few hours later, Zuckerberg offered a couple of similar renderings of his home computer, and they, too, are cool—particularly if you can set aside for a moment the fact that Zuckerberg owns a dog named Beast.
The visual effect is called “style transfer,” and as detailed in an article on Vice, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In the simplest sense, it’s an AI that does exactly what it says, learning the style of one image, then transferring that style to a second image. While that technology isn’t super new, the speed with which it can be done has increased tremendously in recent years, making it an appealing tool for people in visual design. Game designers, for example, could flesh out a single patch of land, then transfer that style throughout the entire level, instead of having to place each tree and cobblestone individually. The Facebook app is a bit more gimmicky, and so far it seems to be limited to just the impressionist filters, but—according to the University Of Tübingen researcher Leon Gatys, at least—that’s still exciting: It means the AI works.
What’s even more exciting to imagine, though, is the hellish phantasmagoria this technology will summon into being, once Facebook officially hands it over to your low-key racist aunt, that guy from high school who only posts pictures of repossessed automobiles, and Facebook star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. As with any tool implemented across a vast social network, results will vary wildly and trend toward pictures of children you don’t recognize. And now those children will have rainbow-colored flesh, as well.