Posts tagged ‘novelai’

2022/11/26

Woot woot!

Graphs from NaNoWriMo, showing a steadish 2,000 words per day from the 1st to the 25th of November.

Kept the ol’ 2,000 words per day pretty constant during NaNoWriMo, except for a couple of days off that I made up for on the next weekend, so I made the goal of 50,000, and not by coincidence the end of the story, right there on the 25th (which was, let’s see, yeah, yesterday!). A nice feeling.

I think I like this year’s rather a lot. The little Midjourney pictures at the start of each Fling (where “Flings” really turned out to be Chapters) was fun, but I think not ultimately transformative; not a big deal. A few plot elements, some important, (the libraries, the plants, the fast sharp ships) came from the images, but without the images something else would I expect have sprung to mind and perhaps carried the same basic ideas, about meaning, and communication, identity and the symbol-grounding problem.

As a reminder; the whole thing can be read in order by clicking on the cover page here, and then clicking the bold link at the bottom of each Fling. I may be going through and fixing a few errors between now and the end of the month (although the relative inconvenience of doing that in WordPress may limit how much I do).

In other news, I’ve been on Twitter less, and on Mastodon / Fediverse more, prompted by the gross antics of the billionaire narcissist, but continuing just because it’s a more interesting place, with (so far?) more interesting and less upsetting communication going on. (It could be argued that given the State of Things, one ought to be upset; but so far I think the argument is flawed.)

I’ve been making tons and tons of images on Midjourney still (getting up near 20,000, the system tells me!) and they are still constantly improving the engine(s), which is very cool. I’ve been posting some of them on PixelFed (roughly, PixelFed is to Instagram as Mastodon is to Twitter), and also still on Twitter (the same ones, mostly). I have enough pictures that I love to fill many, many weblog posts, and I’m sure such posts will appear.

Here’s just one image for now that’s a total favorite; it’s called “Accord”:

A woman with a very long neck in foreground just left of center, looking to our right. Her hair extends fractally into infinity upper left. An infinite line of smaller women in dark clothes, all looking in the same direction, extends from her shoulder to the right, where a tower is dimly present through fog and insects. Two more of the smaller women stand behind her, eyes closed.

Is that amazing, or what? He said modestly.

In the legal domain, there is talk of a class-action suit against Microsoft / GitHub / OpenAI / Copilot, on something like the claim that training an AI on a piece of code requires the appropriate license from the owner of that code (or equivalent, as for public domain code or code you wrote yourself). The possibility of implications for AI art tools like Midjourney, and AI text generators like NovelAI, is clear, although there may also be significant differences. For instance, there seem to be various examples of exact plagiarism by Copilot, whereas as far as I’m aware no such thing exists for say Midjourney or NovelAI.

(There was at least one person persistently spamming Twitter and Reddit with a copy-pasted claim that GPT-3 plagiarizes, pointing at various things on the web that did not actually show, or generally even claim, that. I can’t find them today; perhaps OpenAI’s lawyers sent them a letter. Similarly I’ve been told by one person on Twitter (and at least one other who agreed with them) that for “[a]lmost all pieces I’ve seen thus far, I can point at and name the elements that came from individual artists, and often individual paintings or works”, but when I expressed interest and asked for a concrete example, they said roughly “I’ll get back to you tonight” and then went silent.)

It will be interesting to see what happens with this lawsuit. Somewhat sadly, I think that:

  • The most likely outcome is that they’ll just lose, because Microsoft is rich and individual Open Source contributors, even as a class, aren’t rich,
  • Second most likely, Microsoft will give some symbolic amount of money to something that will benefit some Open Source contributors a little and some lawyers a lot, and there will be no precedent-setting court decision,
  • Less likely, after some long wrangling process, something like the Private Copying Levy might be worked out, which is sort of like that last bullet, but more codified and involving more money, and possibly a precedent that there is a copyright violation at least potentially involved,
  • Even less likely, there would be some kind of opt-out process whereby a creator could indicate they didn’t want their stuff used to train AIs, and makers of AI engines would have to like re-generate their neural nets annually without the opted-art works,
  • And at the bottom, perhaps fairest in some sense but also least likely, a straightforward finding that AI Engine makers, at least ones that make money, really do need the right to copy and/or prepare derivative works of the things they train their engines on. So we’d get engines trained on just public domain works, things out of copyright, things posted under sufficiently permissive licenses, things they explicitly license, and so on. I would be fine with this, myself, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening.

We’ll see!

What else? That’s the main things I can think of. Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving was very nice; the four of us and the little daughter’s SO. We were (I was) especially lazy this year; beyond the HelloFresh pre-planned ingredients that we’ve used the last couple of years, this year we got the pre-planned pre-cooked just-needs-warming version from FreshDirect (ETOOMUCHFRESH). It wasn’t bad! And certainly easy. :) We also bought pre-made apple and pumpkin pies. I resist feeling guilty!!

Also my Windows laptop is broken (I’m not sure why or how; it behaves like a bad storage device, but both the HDD and the SSD seem perfectly readable when stuck into external USB things). Whatever’s wrong with it inside, it’s also vaguely falling apart, with cracked and broken keys, a non-functional direct Ethernet connection (on all connectors somehow), and some other stuff.

So I have an exciting new Framework laptop coming as an early Solstice present! (It’s supposedly in Alaska right now, on the way here in under a week or so.) Inspired, like so many other people, by Cory Doctorow’s glowing review. We’ll see if I am frustrated by the Intel graphics chipset. I’m pretty optimistic, as what I want to run isn’t like the latest AAA game; more like WoW and SecondLife and the GIMP and No Man’s Sky and Satisfactory. I might have to turn the resolution down some at worst I expect.

(In the meantime I’ve been using my phone and this tiny cheap Samsung Chromebook and just not using any of those programs; turns out my life doesn’t depend on any of them! The thing I’m most eager to do is get the GIMP going to work on Part 3 of Klara; in theory I could enable Linux on the Chromebook here and run the GIMP in that, but I rather doubt its CPU is up to it. Just typing this into the WordPress editor is lagging significantly just because I’m also watching YouTube and have a few dozen Chrome tabs open including like Discord and Mastodon and…)

There! :) Thanks for coming, and enjoy.

2022/10/01

AI Art and Copyright some more

I am losing track of the number of AI-based image-creation tools I have access to now. It’s not that huge a number, but it’s complicated! :) There’s at least:

  • good old ArtBreeder, which I haven’t used in ages, and which seems to have a potentially interesting new mode where you sketch a thing with a few shapes, and then type text telling the AI what to make it into,
  • MidJourney with the old V3 engine and the newer and lyrically named ‘test’ and ‘testp’ engines and mixmashes of those,
  • NightCafe, which was my main goto image tool quite some weeks, with the old Artistic and Coherent engines, but now also the new Stable Diffusion (SD) based “Stable” engine, and various workflows among those,
  • NovelAI which now does images as well as text; the images are also in a Discord bot, and it’s really fast; it uses some heuristic smut-blurrer (maybe just the standard SD one?) but the devs sort of promise they will eventually move it off of discord and then have few or no restrictions (similarly to their text generator),
  • and now I discover that I have access to Dall-E also, from OpenAI, which I have just barely begun to use (detailed surrealism).

The “you can’t copyright art made with AIs” meme seems to have withered (which is good since it’s not true, although nothing is certain), but my experiment to gather additional evidence against it has finally borne fruit (months before I expected it to, really): I have now registered my copyright in this masterpiece of mine:

A blonde porcelain doll and a worn teddy bear sit on a trunk, in a musty attic in light from the window

with the real actual US Copyright Office, who have sent me a real actual certificate testifying to it. The registration can also be found on the web (you have to go to that page and then search on Registration Number for “VA0002317843”; I have yet to find a permalink that persists, bizarrely).

I did it through LegalZoom rather than myself; it cost more (I think), but I was more confident that I was Doing It Right during the process. There were no questions about whether AI was involved, or about what software I used to create it, or anything like that. I did have to say that I’m the creator, of course, but since I am :) I don’t see a problem there.

Registering the copyright doesn’t mean it’s 100% correct, it just creates a legal presumption. Someone could still challenge it, arguing that I wasn’t really the creator at all. I think that would be very unlikely to succeed.

And in any case, here is a nice concrete counterexample to any remaining “you can’t copyright art produced with an AI” claims that might be floating around.

The image is, by the way, provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, so feel free to do anything allowed by that license. :) Knock yourself out! Figuratively!

Extremely generous friend Karima also continues updating the virtual world region “AI Dreams in Art” with things she likes from my Twitter feed, etc, so drop by! It is getting blushingly positive reviews on the Social Medias; apparently there are significant numbers of people who have heard a lot about this AI Art stuff, but never really seen any. They seem to like mine! :)

2022/08/28

Sunday in August

Brilliant title, eh? :) Various things have occurred! I will mention some of them.

There is now a full draft of my graphic novel(ette); it’s 40 pages, and about 50MB, so don’t expect your phone to pop it up very quickly. And also don’t expect it to be that good :) as I’ve never really written in this medium before, and it’s tough. In the most recent draft I removed considerable exposition which felt out of place, replacing it with images and short statements. Now I’m afraid the result is basically incomprehensible :) at least to anyone not already familiar with the SF tropes I’m touching on.

It was really fun to do, though! As I’ve mentioned, all of the art was done using MidJourney, and the compositing and most of the text was done in the GIMP. I got a few nice pieces of display text from cooltext.com; if I’d thought about it a little harder, I would have used something more interesting than Sans-Serif Bold (and sometimes Italic) from the GIMP font collection. (There’s a little Verdana, just on the copyright page at the end I think.)

This was the most fun when I was putting together the images that I’d already created that inspired the story in the first place. It was more frustrating when I needed a particular image and was trying to create it in MidJourney; it is sometimes a challenge to generate a specific thing! The water droplet at the very end, for instance, came after many, many attempts to make a crystal / water sphere that wasn’t sitting on a surface of some kind.

Other things! In order to get even more meta than this, we entered “Here is a short description of an image that has some interesting visual elements:” into NovelAI. It responded:

A man wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans sits in his chair, staring at the television. His eyes are closed as he watches a show about two women discussing the weather. The screen reads ‘NBC News’ with a picture of a woman.

and I typed that into MidJourney, and got this:

Four rather fuzzy pictures containing a person and some TV screens

So that’s in some sense entirely AI-generated, using a human-designed procedure. It’s also really boring!

Let’s try again; this time NovelAI says:

A woman in a white dress, standing on a rocky beach. The ocean is behind her and the setting sun makes for a bright glare to one side of her face as she looks out into the water.

and MidJourney responds with (after a considerable delay because I am in relax mode, which is basically “nice -n 19”:

Four nice slightly impressionistic images of a woman standing on rocks by the water with the sun low.

which is quite nice (although again not exactly what the prompt says).

So there you are: the first two (or eight) images produced by a particular meta-algorithm using Modern AI Technology! :)

Other things are to a great extent prevented from occurring by the fact that it is Very Humid outside, and there are Pandemics and so on still. I went out to get bagels this morning, and I was like “yow, what is this very large humid windy room here?”. There’s a chance I’ll get into Manhattan next week; that will be quite a shock!

I have not been playing Video Games to speak of, because all of these AI stuff has been more interesting. There is all sorts of stuff to say about legal issues (Yes, content generated using an AI can be copyrighted by the human creator!) and societal issues (impact of AI on artists and art perhaps similar to impacts of photography on same?) and all like that there. But it is more fun to make cool pictures!

So in closing here is the one I used on the copyright page of the Graphic Novel(ette). Be well!

A surreal image of maybe a sheep standing in shallow water looking at maybe like a blimp made of sticks or something.
2022/07/22

A Story with NovelAI

Okay, after that last story, I thought I’d go back and take a look at NovelAI again, and remind myself why I’d stopped using it. And it turns out it’s also quite good! At least as good InferKit, I’d say, so who knows why I stopped; maybe the novelty had worn off, and now the wearing-off has worn off. Its writing, like large-language-model AI writing in general, tends toward the cliched and mediocre (thanks, Central Limit Theorem!), but it can be nudged in, and sometimes spontaneously charges off in, more interesting directions.

Because, unlike InferKit, NovelAI has visual cues for what is entered by the user and what is generated by the AI, I can see which is which, and I’ll italicize my contributions in the below. It’s nothing stunning, really, but it shows the sort of typical behavior of NovelAI, without fiddling with any of the (many, many) parameters that NovelAI offers, and it’s kind of impressive! Clearly, it contributed most of the text, with me just nudging it now and then (and hitting Retry now and then, which isn’t indicated in any way below).

Watch for the “humble abode” cliche :) and various continuity errors, and note that this is relatively short just because I stopped, and we could continue essentially forever, exploring the afterlife, the ocean, what the woman with the tail means by “get back home”, and so on…

The Witch of Sunlight

I parked my autosteamer at the ferry dock, and took the ferry out to the island where the Witch of Sunlight was supposed to live. She didn’t have a house on the beach like the other witches I’d met in this world—she had her own private island. A beautiful one, too. It was green with trees and grass everywhere you looked, and there were no cars anywhere around it.

The ferry let me off at an unremarkable stretch of white-sand beach, and I walked along it until I came across a little hut made from a combination of driftwood and palm fronds. The door was open, so I went inside.

“Hello?” I said. “Is anyone here?”

There wasn’t any response. I didn’t see anything in the room except a low table, several chairs, and some blankets spread out on the floor. There was definitely someone living here, though. It smelled like they’d just finished cooking something.

I sat down on one of the chairs and waited for a while, but nobody came to greet me. Finally I stood up and opened the door.

As soon as I did, a woman wearing a green dress stepped out from behind the hut’s wall. Her hair was long and curly, and she wore a golden necklace that hung over her chest.

“Good morning, young man,” she said. “What do you want?”

“Um… hello.”

She smiled at me. “Come in. Please take a seat.”

I followed her instructions and sat down on the chair opposite hers.

The Witch of Sunlight was pretty tall—taller than most of the women I knew. But she only had about half as much body fat as them, which made her look more slender.

“So, what brings you to my humble abode?”

“I seek wisdom,” I said. “To become stronger, I must first know how weak I am.”

The witch nodded. “You’re absolutely right. That is why I built this place on a remote island—so that people like yourself would come here to learn.”

“I’m not here to be taught, exactly. I want to fight you.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh? You mean you want to challenge me?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. What kind of battle do you wish to engage in?”

“A fight to the death, of course.”

At my words, her expression stiffened. “That is quite bold of you, child.”

“It doesn’t seem very wise to ask for something without offering anything in return, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

I laughed. “Fair enough. So, what do you say?”

She nodded. “Prepare to die, then; may you be wiser in the next world.”

With that, she pulled a wooden sword from beneath her dress and held it up. In the blink of an eye, she had it pointed at my throat.

I quickly leapt back, out of range.

She smiled, and the sword emitted a beam of light that sliced through the air. When it hit the ground, a circle appeared in its center. Then she placed her foot in the hole. With a simple twist of her wrist, she turned herself into a swirling vortex of wind.

“Now!”

I ducked under the blade’s trajectory and thrust my hand forward. Wind surged forth from the tip of my hand, and blew the Witch of Sunlight’s sword away from her.

A laugh came from within the vortex of wind, and a shower of blades rained down upon me. I dodged every single one of them with ease.

“Impressive,” said the Witch of Sunlight. “How many times have you done this before?”

“Maybe once or twice. Why don’t we start with three?”

“Why not? But first, I’ll warn you, this isn’t a game. If you lose, you won’t get your life back.”

“Then I accept your terms. Let’s begin.”

We both charged at each other, weapons drawn.

The witch’s attacks consisted of nothing more than gusts of wind, so I decided to use that against her. I focused all my energy into a single blast of wind that pushed her back.

But when I did, a blinding flash filled my vision.

When I recovered, I saw that my opponent had vanished.

“Hey!” I called out, but then the witch reappeared behind me.

I turned around just in time to see her raise her sword overhead. Its blade flashed again, and I felt a sharp pain in my back.

“Urgh…”

My breath caught as I fell to the ground. My entire body ached, and I couldn’t feel my legs.

I tried to move, but I couldn’t. Something heavy pressed down on my chest.

“Have a good death,” the Witch whispered, and I felt the sharp blade pierce my heart.

***

I woke up with the sound of waves crashing nearby. When I opened my eyes, I found myself in a place I had never imagined seeing: the bottom of the ocean.

The blackness of the water was so deep that I could see nothing beyond it. It stretched on forever in either direction, and there was no sunlight anywhere.

“Is this where death has taken me?” I wondered.

Suddenly, a giant wave crashed down onto the beach, and a figure emerged from the surf. It was a woman who looked younger than me, and was dressed entirely in red. She had dark skin, long silver hair tied behind her head, and a long, graceful tail that extended from beneath her skirt.

“Greetings, boy. Who are you?”

“I’m…”

“I see. Now, tell me, what brought you here?”

“I died, that’s what! And now I’m stuck in the afterlife.”

“Ahh, yes, I know the feeling. Come closer, and I’ll help you get back home.”

I stared at her for a moment. “Are you—”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to eat you.”

She reached out her hand, and I took it. “Thanks.”

We began walking together through the endless darkness.

2022/07/18

A Story with InferKit

Long-time readers will notice that while I used to talk about and quote from GPT-3 and other generative transformer-style AIs a lot, I’ve mostly stopped doing that, and I’ve been posting AI art, and stuff not so much related to AI at all, and so on instead.

What happened?

Well, the big AI Dungeon kerfuffle happened, and that was a thing. Friend Steve points out that GPT-3 itself has been pretty openly available for months, but I haven’t signed up for that because (inter alia) they have these weird terms of service about not using it to generate certain kinds of stuff, as though one was in control of what it generates, and as though certain kinds of words are just bad to generate.

I played with NovelAI pretty regularly for awhile, but eventually sort of tailed off on doing that; I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it sort of got old, or the engine wasn’t quite good enough, or it exposed so many interesting-looking knobs and dials that I felt like I ought to be spending more time playing with them, so I had guilt.

The other week I went back to AI Dungeon to see what was going on there, and it was really bad. Possibly I just got unlucky and wasn’t willing to spend time luring it around to a better part of parameter space, but it was also slow and somehow the interface seemed clunkier. So I stopped doing that.

Then looking through the bills the other day, I noticed that I’ve been paying money for a membership on InferKit.com, which I remembered as the monetized version of Talk to Transformer of yore, and that it had been okay but not great, maybe like GPT-2 level.

I went over to it to see if that was true, and if I could easily drop my membership and save that money, but when I tried it, it seemed to be really good! And fast, and with a very nice (if/because minimalistic) UI. I don’t know what it’s running on the back-end (I wrote their support to ask, and we’ll see if they answer), but it seems to generate quite good stuff.

And having said all of that :) here is a longish story that InferKit and I wrote recently. It feels roughly GPT-3 quality to me. I’d say InferKit wrote the majority of the actual words, including the nonsensical ones, and I wrote the ones most obviously trying to steer it in some direction (including the massive reality-altering cheat to fix the whole inter-reality war at the end there).

Readers of my AI Dungeon tales, if any, will note that the character Tanya here is not the Tanya of AI Dungeon, which due to an important piece of its specification set will imbue any character named “Tanya” with a sort of romantic strength and badassery, but just a normal person who happens to be named Tanya. And the overall theme is the “what shall we do now that we can warp reality however we like” of many of my prior explanations, and my entire 2020 NaNoWriMo novel.

It doesn’t seem to have a title in any sense; the initial prompt was “The next time the three of us met” up to and including “Tanya said”. And after that it’s all collaboration. :)

Hope you enjoy!


The next time the three of us met, it was on the long deck along the seafront, near the carnival grounds. We smiled and nodded to each other, and sat cross-legged on the dark wood planks.

“The nature of reality,” Tanya said, “is that you have to find someone else to talk to. You are only ever connected with so many people at any given time, and most of these people are in your head. It’s the solitude that makes people’s voices resonate.”

“How many friends do you have?” I asked.

She looked at me without saying anything.

“I don’t count people as friends,” she said. “They’re there.”

And then, quite suddenly, a young man who had been riding his bicycle up and down the deck leaned towards Tanya and whispered something in her ear.

“I’ve fallen in love with you!” he shouted, and jumped up and down on his bright green sneakers.

Tanya laughed, and invited him to sit with us.

“I guess we’ve found someone else to talk to!” Rainer commented.

“A lover, perhaps?” Tanya suggested.

But I was depressed.

“It’s over,” I said to Tanya.

“Who, me?” she said.

“Everything!” I shouted. “Everything is over.”

This had nothing to do with what was supposed to be our topic of conversation. But I was feeling it so strongly, I had to speak. The young man from the bicycle, now sitting awkwardly beside Tanya, opened his eyes wide as he looked at me.

“Liar!” he said.

“Liar!” I shouted, and the three of us howled in laughter.

That night, it rained hard, and we hurried back into the cabin. Rainer was on the phone all night, so Tanya and the young man (whose name was David, but which we never bothered to learn) and I sat in the cabin. They played chess.

“It’s too bad about your seminar in Paris,” David said.

“It was great,” Tanya said. “But how am I supposed to make it in the real world?”

I realized that she had stopped doing a lot of the things she was used to doing.

She had stopped ordering clothes from magazines. She had stopped trying on clothes in those tiny rooms that are in every high-end fashion store, the rooms that look like miniature apartments, with large, airy beds on the floor, and glass coffee tables under lamps, where there is no lampshade.

I found a magazine in the drawer. “What do you think of this?” I asked Tanya and David, referring again to the underlying nature of reality, and the problematic nature of perception, the nature of things that aren’t there.

I didn’t want to fall in love with her, I just wanted to know what was really going on.

“It’s all a bunch of BS,” Tanya said.

“Reality is real, though,” I said, “we have to understand it better!”

“Yeah,” Tanya said, “but I don’t see what we’re supposed to understand. It’s a mystery.”

And then she went to sleep.

Later in the evening, she jumped into the middle of the cabin, and turned off the lights, and started dancing in the dark.

David said, “I guess you can do what you want.”

He said it in German, but it sounded like a yes.

That was Tanya’s cue to get up and go to bed.

“Sorry I didn’t have time to see your painting today, but I promise to see it tomorrow.”

“We can see it together, Tanya,” I said.

I thought that would finally take care of the whole subject of her seeing the painting, which had been the thing to keep us together for the past few weeks.

Instead, she said, “I want to do this on my own.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I have to say goodbye to David now,” she said.

David opened the door, and she gave him a hug. “Take care of yourself,” she said, “watch where you bicycle.” And then she was gone.

David watched her get on her bike, and get on her way, and then go away from him.

I followed Tanya down the road to the corner. She stopped and waved.

“See you tomorrow,” she called. I waved back, and continued along into town.

That night, I heard the bicycle across the way, its wheels clicking on the asphalt, its leather seat creaking under Tanya’s weight, like the bicycle I had when I was a kid.

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can be in other universes, and remember things that haven’t happened. I can remember my happiest childhood memories, and times that I can’t really remember.

I thought about those things, and thought about the chances I’ve taken, the things I’ve tried to learn, and how malleable reality is.

Rainer was snoring softly on the couch across the room, and when Tanya slipped in through the door and quietly came in, she didn’t wake him up.

“Did you take a lot of pictures today?” she asked.

I thought that was an odd question.

“Yes,” I said.

I didn’t mention the chess game, and the thing with David.

Tanya relaxed on the rug in the dark. “Sorry I sort of blew you off on the question about reality,” she said, “I was just impatient.”

I figured that would be it, so I kept my mouth shut.

She said, “Can I sleep here on the floor tonight?”

“What?” I said. “You’ll get sick, sleeping on the floor.”

“No, you can’t sleep on the floor, get into the bed or something, there’s lots of room.”

I just stared at her, trying to think of a way to get rid of her.

“You sleep here with me,” she said.

I thought about Tanya and me on the bed, spooning, watching the sun go down, and about the way the breeze would feel.

“Okay,” I said, finally smiling a little in the dark, “I’ll sleep here.”

We crawled under the blanket and turned away from each other.

It was a little awkward, but at least I wasn’t in that cheap futon anymore, and I got to know Tanya a little better.

In the morning over breakfast, she brought up the issue again.

“Do you really think that we can change reality just by willing it?” she asked, sipping at her tea.

“Maybe,” I said, “Maybe not.”

“So you don’t think you’re going to die any time soon, do you?”

“No,” I said, “Not yet, anyway. But that’s not the biggest question.”

“Yes,” she said.

“What’s the biggest question?”

“Is there anyone after us, after your dream? Is there anybody after me, after your dream?”

“Yeah, I think there is,” I said. “There’s somebody, there always has to be somebody.”

“But can they see us?”

“Sure, I don’t think they could see us if they didn’t already.”

“Well,” she said, “maybe we should find out. In your dream, did you ever see anyone after us? Did you see the creator, or the shaper?”

I looked at her carefully, and I could see the questions in her eyes. She’d been thinking about it, and all that would change now, now that I’d told her.

I considered for a moment what I’d said. “I don’t want everything to change,” I ventured, “because of how I answer that.”

Tanya was quiet for a minute. “What?”

“I didn’t mean to say something so dangerous,” I said.

“Why are you afraid of change?” she asked.

“Just in general,” I said, “It’s like a drug. I get used to reality flowing around me, and then I get afraid that it will all dissolve into chaos if I don’t pay attention to it. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m beginning to understand.”

I didn’t reply immediately, and we just sat together, with the surf rolling gently outside the window. Rainier went to the old piano and began to play something classical, and Tanya just sat there, with her coffee cup, watching him.

Then she said, “Do you think we’re going to die?”

I hadn’t really been expecting that.

“Probably not,” I said. “I mean, our minds wouldn’t go into any reality in which we died, unless they wanted to. Don’t you think?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I feel like I know you, but I don’t. If you died, I’d be a little afraid, but I’d be like a normal person. If you didn’t have to die, I wouldn’t know what to do, I think.”

“Would you really be just like a normal person?” I smiled, teasing her.

“Probably not. But I’d be scared.”

We talked about it for a while longer, about our lives and futures, about why we lived, why we were living.

Then the rain began to fall harder outside, and we three all stood by the window, just looking out. I found it heartbreakingly lovely, countless raindrops just falling, with no plan or name or concern.

······

Some people like to describe death as a few minutes of darkness, and then everything that has any color is gone, and it’s gone forever. I thought that was a pretty ghastly way to put it, myself.

I thought about taking Tanya and Rainier and any of the others to a glorious Palace of Death in some elaborate afterlife. Would that be the end of my life?

After a while, I realized that my life would never go back to what it had been before, because I knew the truth of what a human being is and of what it is to be alive. And I liked the idea.

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a ruby necklace for Tanya, and a small silver whistle for Rainier, and some information cards, with contact information for the refuge. I told them that if they should ever need to call for help, or needed to contact any of us, that this was where they could find the center of the circle.

“Wow,” said Tanya, “that’s really beautiful. I’ve always wanted one of these.”

I put it around her neck, and stepped back to admire the effect. Rainier smiled his gratitude, and played a high piping tune on the silver whistle.

“Gifts from the interstices of reality,” I said, and we all smiled.

We parted with each other again, feeling more confident about our place in this world than we had for a long time.

Being grateful doesn’t do anything, and being envious doesn’t, either. We are each made of space and time, and part of space is where the things we like are. We can never truly be ungrateful, but we can try to express our gratefulness, even if we can never be grateful enough for the infinite gifts we’ve been given.

I walked through the grounds of the abbey, smiling at the young novices who bowed as I passed, and at the occasional cat that scuttled out from behind a tree, curious to see who had stopped to watch it eat.

Why hadn’t I done this before? Maybe for the same reason it took so long for the three of us to understand that we were in a place that no one had ever visited before, and that everyone who came after would never find again. Or maybe it was simply that it was so beautiful that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing it.

“Don’t let fear of loss prevent you from appreciating what you have, while you have it,” Sister Victoria said, kneeling beside me in the little side-chapel. “Even when it’s clear that it’s gone.”

“Are you saying this is it, then?” I asked, gazing up at her.

She nodded, looking down at the still shape of me. “You were blessed by the Mother, and sent here for all of us. The road behind us vanishes forever, and the road ahead always approaches. This is love.”

“I’ve never heard of this before,” I said, “but you make it sound like I’m going to be around for a long time.”

“For a long time,” Sister Victoria said, smiling, “or longer than you might have imagined. You may not always be here, but we will always be here for you.”

She gestured at the stone shelves.

“These are where all of the writings of the order are kept,” she said. “And they will grow with you.”

I glanced down. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there.

“You don’t have to do this,” I said, uncertain. “You can walk away.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t?” she asked, incredulous. “That I should just abandon you when you are in need?”

“I was thinking of leaving, anyway,” I said.

“Then you wouldn’t want me to give you an object of power,” she said. “Or a spell that will protect you when you need it.”

I hesitated. It had felt like something of a dare.

“You are loved, Cerebra,” she said. “Even if the rest of the order doesn’t see it. You cannot be isolated. You need the community. Let yourself feel it. The next part of the road will come before you can even think to leave it.”

I took her words to heart, walking with her as she showed me all of the different places in the archives where the minutes of the grand council meetings had been recorded, from earlier than anyone remembered.

I turned to Sister Victoria gratefully. “I owe a great deal to you, and to the Abbey, for support in my wanderings. You’ve given me the courage to go on. I’m not alone anymore.”

“And I want to help you pay back what you’ve done for us,” she said. “In the days to come, we’ll meet to talk about what might be done. But for now, you need to rest, and the only place I know where the safe for you is is right here.”

She took me to a modest room off of the library corridor, with a shelf and a small bed, and I put down my things. I felt happy and light just to be in a place that had existed, once, long ago.

I was up before the sun the next morning. I had an urge to watch the dawn, and it seemed that Sister Victoria was as well. I walked her back to the chapel for the third time, and we stood in silence in the quiet presence of the morning. I looked at her wise quiet face and wondered if she could tell me the secret of her stillness.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The next time we meet, you’ll be the one teaching me. And I can’t help you.”

“I’m sorry too,” I said, feeling boh joy and sorrow, “but also glad.”

She stepped back to allow me passage into the library, and I left the archive with the heavy conviction that I would be safe and that I would survive the darkening days ahead.

*

An hour later, I sat in front of the parchment and began to write. I had considered leaving the map to Sister Victoria to make no more notes on its fate, and I didn’t want to bother my mother with the errand either. So I carefully wrote my own notes, and then filed the map away, back in the archives.

I packed my bag again, stopped by the Abbey commissary to take some bread and apples for the trip, and set off on the open road, back to Rome.

It was as I was taking a sharp turn onto the main road out of Rome that a rider approached from behind, a courier. He was an older man, in a greyed and worn black uniform, but his head was gleaming in the morning light, and his face was sharp and alert. His horse was well-bred, and he wore a plain white armband with the Christian cross.

“Good morning, Mister Clovis,” he said.

“And Good Morning to you, my good man,” I replied, going to stand next to his horse. “What do you have for me?”

He reached into his saddlebag and brought out a roll of parchment, carefully wrapped with wax, and then handed it over. I opened it, and read the text over once before I unfolded it.

“My dear, Cerebra, how strange,” my mother said, after I had finished reading. “This is the exact order that has been sent to the Abbess, about the elimination of the Foreigners in Rome.”

I put down the parchment and looked at my mother, shocked.

“I don’t understand,” I said, confused. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. What do you mean, they are ‘eliminating’ foreigners?”

“I believe that the Abbey will be taking care of them,” my mother said. “Their provisions have been filled with grain, seeds, oil and salt. Their rooms and showers have been made ready, and their last journey to the door of the Temple may be hastened by the passage of those remaining soldiers in the barracks.”

I felt the truth of her words, but wondered at the underlying meaning. “So all of the foreigners in Rome in this reality, are being sent through the Portal in the Temple of Artemis?” I asked her. “But it will take them hours to get to Constantinople. Why send the order so quickly?”

My mother smiled and nodded.

“It’s called ‘progress’, Mister Clovis,” she said. “It’s what’s going to take the world over, over the next twenty years. But this is just the beginning.”

I remembered her smile when she had first explained about the Cathedral, and I thought again of the letter she had read.

“Mother,” I said seriously, “is this the sort of kindness that the world will expect from the Empire now? I cannot approve of a forced relocation like this, progress or no!”

She looked at me thoughtfully. “What you describe, Mister Clovis, is a cultural revolution,” she said. “And it’s all part of an apocalyptic vision, of melding the minds of man and beast, of conquest, and creation. The balance of power has been disrupted. It is the most appropriate time to move to this new reality.”

*

After I had finished writing my mother, and she had finished reading my notes, she told me what the letter to the Abbess had said.

“I wish it were not true, Mister Clovis, but the Abbess said that it was necessary to do this, to integrate new populations into the Empire. The Empire is expanding, in a rapid rate. The people of Earth must be considered an integral part of our Imperial State, in order to avoid the maladies of xenophobia and racism. We have endured past horrors, Mr. Clovis, horrors that should never have been. The state of our planet is at a perilous moment, and the time has come for drastic measures. It is very fortunate, that we have such good friends as the Abbey. They will help to alleviate the suffering of these people. And in return, we will assist in spreading this program of compassion and tolerance throughout the Empire.”

My mother sat then in silence. I wondered why she addressed me as Mister Clovis. We had been so close in earlier years, I still longed to embrace her, and forget all of the intricacies of rulership and international politics. But she stared at me, her face expressionless. After some moments, she finally said, “There is something else that I think you should know, Mister Clovis. This is a matter of great gravity, which you must consider carefully.”

I waited a few seconds. “What is it, Mother?”

“Your father, Mister Clovis,” she said, with a glance at my ink-stained shirt. “I am aware that you have been the object of gossip and conjecture in recent weeks, and I must tell you that they are all true. It has come to my attention that you are the product of an extramarital affair, by one of your father’s mistresses. She is a member of an ancient family in Argentina. Your father has been faithful to me, to his family, to the Empire. And I have never had an affair with him.”

I could not help but smile at this piece of absurdity. “Are you saying, Mother, that I am not the true fruit of your womb? But that is absurd!” I told her, by way of celebration. “One of my father’s mistresses is an innocent by-stander who did not participate in the affairs of men. That I am the child of a liaison between one of the highest-ranking womanizers in the Empire, and one of the lowest-ranking womanizers in our territories, is an insult to all the women of the Empire, and it is quite something that the rumor has gone so far.”

My mother smiled at me and nodded. “As is often the case, Mister Clovis,” she said, “there are things you do not know. What you must do is think through what it means. And your father will probably be pleased with what I have told you, as it will justify a lot of things, in his eyes. He will, of course, go through an investigation to make sure that this is true. I have no reason to disbelieve the Abbess. She has given me a lot of information. You will do as I have said, and think it over.”

I studied my mother’s face, for the first time since I had heard the news. I think she had hoped that I would be upset, that she would have some explanation that would heal the wounds of a family. But I had been brought up to think for myself. I was a child of the Empire, and I would be my own person, in this reality or any other.

I leaned forward and kissed her cheek by way of answer, and returned to the sunlit road. I felt bad for my mother, and regretted the fact that I would be leaving her. But she understood my need for independence. She was proud of me, for I had shown courage and determination in dealing with my father, which was not something that even my mother could boast about, and which she would not do without feeling some measure of guilt. But I was not staying to punish her, nor to repay her, and she knew that.

The road led from the Abbey to the town of Escardes. As I was leaving, I saw some of my siblings standing on the rampart, watching me go. They gave me a knowing wave, and I waved back. I would miss them, and their faces, and their laughter, and their mischief.

I looked up at the sky, and wished that I was a bird, that I could fly with the breeze. I started to whistle a gentle tune as I walked away.

I reached Escardes in the evening, and settled myself in its main Inn, which had on its sign a BIrd and Candle. In the inn’s common room, I heard my name called, and was surprised to see Tanya, in dusty travel clothes, sitting with a mug of ale by the fire.

“Hey, cousin!” she said.

“Tanya!” I said. “I am so glad to see you.” I went to her, and we hugged each other, and then hugged and kissed each other again. I sat down next to her, and we looked at each other with wide smiles.

“And how did you come to this particular branch of reality?” I asked her after we had both had large swallows of the Inn’s ale.

“I have just spent the last three weeks in this alternate reality, before I decided to return here,” she told me. “This other reality is a peaceful, happy place, with magic and interesting wizards, even if the people are a little odd. But I wanted to come back here, where there is also magic, but where the people are not as nice, because I miss you. I know my parents never liked you much.”

I laughed. “They never did! They considered me a doubtful and corrupting influence, I think.”

Tanya was confused. “How are you here, then?”

I told her about the abbess’ prophecy.

“This all makes sense!” she exclaimed. “The fact that the historical reality has been overwritten by this new history. And now, you are also missing. This is wonderful!”

“To being missing!” I toasted, and we clinked our mugs together. “But here’s the thing.” I paused to think. “I need to tell you something.”

Tanya gave me a knowing look, and nodded.

“As it turns out,” I started, “there is a war brewing between different factions of people. They are like humans, except that they use magic, and they have no concept of what purity of blood is. Some of them think that they are better than humans, and that they are destined to rule. That’s in this particular timeline, and it’s kind of vexing, I think.”

Tanya was confused, but nodded.

“Well, some of them want to take this war to the future, to the end of the universe.”

Tanya and I looked at each other in astonishment.

“And, there is another faction, which is not interested in war,” I said.

Tanya frowned. “You mean that they are not warlike?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

Tanya nodded. “What happens then?”

“Nothing good, I’m afraid.” I said. “They have advanced weapons, and they have a great deal of magical power, and it is getting dangerous. The warlords in this warring universe want to wipe out this universe, just to make sure that they never have to deal with these people again. They are talking about wiping out life as we know it, including my current timeline. But in fact, they won’t really succeed. All of this happens because of the abbess. She has helped to instill hatred in both universes.”

“The abbess is the one who told you that we were never destined to be mates.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, they are never destined to be mates, she said. But maybe she’s evil after all!”

“I think so,” I said. “In fact, I think she is evil. She has power over this universe, and she wants it for herself. It’s not just because she wants to rule, though, it’s because she wants to get revenge on the world that stole her beloved pet dog.”

“The bear thing?”

“Yeah.” I said. “I met the abbess in the year 3184 A.D., and she was holding a very large black bear, as big as an elephant. It was really something! I think that animal is the semantic crux-point for this whole bundle of related realities. It’s really rather messy.”

Tanya finished her mug and signaled for another, and when she brought it, I drank. I felt warm inside.

And then, without warning, it occurred to me. “You think that I’m descended from the ‘bear thing’?” I asked.

Tanya looked at me with raised eyebrows, and laughed loudly. “That would just make everything perfect, wouldn’t it? You being descended from the bear, and us being right here together!”

“It’s not only possible,” I said, “but I really think it’s likely.”

Tanya sighed. “So, this war, then?” she asked. “How do we stop it?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “Maybe we should just leave this universe alone and stop fighting. They are all dead anyway, right?”

Tanya nodded her head slowly, and looked at me in a serious manner. “Well, what if they weren’t? What if they came back?”

I blinked, and frowned. “What do you mean?”

Tanya took my hands in hers, and looked me in the eye. “I’m not kidding, Roland. Imagine. You and I were born a couple of thousand years ago. That means that we should be dead now. We’re not.”

I just stared at her, then I began to smile.

“This is why I’ll always love you,” I told her. We put on our Royal Robes, and opening a portal in the wall of the room, we strode out into the Holy Square of the Imperial City, to the wild cheers and adulation of the crowd. The war was over, the Abbess’s mind had been healed, and all of the casualties returned to robust and boisterous life.

I wondered if we had just prevented a lot of suffering in the universe, but I put that thought aside, because I was happy.

So much for that mystery, I thought. I’m not going to chase it anymore. I turned to Tanya. “Shall we go back to the beach?” I suggested, “maybe Rainier has something new to play for us.”

“Yes, that would be nice,” she agreed.

And, as we walked back to the City with the sound of the surf in our ears, we contemplated how we might spend the rest of our time on the island.

—–

“I’ve been working on materializing things in my pockets,” Rainier said as we sat on the surf-damp rocks above the beach. “I’m getting pretty good at it, but you still do better. I think that you could just show up anywhere in the universe if you really wanted to, but it’s harder for me. If I really need something, I can just go find it.”

I gazed around, and watched as Rainier flew up into the sky, and flew back down with something in his hand. I had a good idea what it was.

I broke the arrowhead out of its case. The stone inside the ancient glass shell was mostly translucent green, like moss. A section of the leaf was intact, and the petals on the branches were still lit. The grass was a bit wilted, I noticed, but the little moss was firm and green. A piece of mussel shell still dangled from the wound of the stone.

I lit the mussel shell and placed it in my palm.

“Very nice!” I said to Rainier, “why did you need to fly up high to get it, do you think?”

“Because I always have something in my pocket,” Rainier replied.

I turned to Tanya, who smiled.

“Would you like to try it, Roland?” Tanya asked. “I know you’re very good with your hands.”

I winked at her, and then reached into my pocket and brought out a small statue of a group of bears, the little ones all snuggled in with their sleeping mother, carven in volcanic black rock. It looked harmless enough, but it was heavier than it looked. I held it in my hand, and then took a deep breath.

The statue melted and was replaced with a high grade concentrated air crystal, about as big as a tennis ball, that could be blown as hard as I could blow. It had an embedded compass, and a glowstone for navigation, both buried in the crystal.

“How’s that?” I asked, proudly showing the object off to Tanya and Rainier. “It’s more than a little power, Tanya.”

She didn’t look all that impressed, but she did nod.

“All right, I guess that’s enough show and tell for today,” I said. “I need to talk to Rainier some more.”

And so we sat by the surf, our shoulders touching, my head leaned against Rainier’s shoulder, while I held my toy. It was a world of calm and love, with gentle rolling waves, and the beach surrounded by a huge blue and green world of clouds and sky.

Tanya and I exchanged glances, and then I felt it again.

Rainier’s love, his soul, my soul, joined together in the most natural of ways. And I knew we had found the true home.

And for that moment, we were one.

2022/03/11

More AI-generated pictures from AI-generated prompts

First I had this conversation with NovelAI; its contributions are in bold:


“So I want to have one AI produce a paragraph, and then feed that to another AI to produce an image from.”
“That sounds interesting,” the AI console typed back, “would you like me to generate a paragraph of interesting text, to get you started?”
“Sure,” I said, “can you do that”
“Easily,” the AI replied, and then it emitted this paragraph:
A man walked down a road. He was very old, but he had been walking for many years now, so his age did not matter much any more. The sun rose in front of him as he walked along, its light warming his face and making the wrinkles on his skin seem less harsh than they might otherwise be. His eyes were still clear and bright with intelligence, even though those around him often looked at them without seeing what lay behind them. He saw things other people missed; he knew how the world worked and why it worked that way.
“Wow, thank you!” I thanked the AI, “I’ll have to break that up into multiple prompts, but I can’t wait to see what VQGAN+CLIP comes up with from it!”
The next day, I fed the generated text to my CLIP-based AI, which produced these images:


I thought that last line was amusingly appropriate, although of course there was no reason to wait until “the next day”. I fed the generated text immediately to Nightcafe, and it produced these images (same prompt text for each, just different random seeds):

I kind of love it! See the face in the clouds in that last one?

2022/01/27

The AIs are making visual art now!

I’ve written quite a bit here about the latest generation(s) of AIs that generate text, after reading much of the Internet and so on, and given some text to start with. I’ve played with AI Dungeon, NovelAI (which I see I haven’t blogged about much; it’s cool, and imho the UI is much better than, and the AI about as good as, AI Dungeon’s), whatever the heck is inside Replika these days, and Google’s own engine (paper is out!).

I’ve also blogged before about Art Breeder, which is cool, and lets one interact with software that includes some AI elements to make new strange (or realistic) pictures. While it uses AI, Art Breeder doesn’t have quite the wild and open-ended feel that the text generators do, because it knows specifically about certain kinds of images (faces, landscapes, etc), and it knows certain things about them (the “genes” that exist and that people who pay a certain amount of money can create new ones of), and lets you mix and match and evolve within that rather structured framework, rather than just typing stuff.

Now I’ve been playing with some visual-art AIs that are more in the generator style. These have existed for awhile (the earliest I can recall being OpenAI’s “DALL-E” (a cute pun opon “Dali” the artist and “WALL-E” the cute fictional robot)), but I haven’t noticed them being more or less freely available to lazy people until like this month.

The first one I’ll mention is the “2D” mode in AI Dungeon: paying members or something can now turn on a feature that will insert pixelated images into one’s stories, generated from the story text by (according to the help text) pixray (about which I know very little). For example:

I admit I don’t find the images especially… interesting. But the idea is at least kind of fun!

Next up is “dall-e mini” (punctuation and trademark status unclear to me). It’s very simple: you give it a word or phrase, and it displays a small grid of small images which it calls “predictions”, and which are… perhaps at least vaguely related to the words, and sometimes cool.

And yes, the reason I was prompting AI Dungeon’s GPT-3 to generate names for not-yet-created artworks up in the first image there, was so I could enter the names into things like dall-e mini, and the next one we’ll talk about.

That next one is Nightcafe, which is free to use in a relatively complex sense: anyone can sign up, and you get a certain number of “credits” to use on doing stuff, and as you hit various milestones (which come pretty fast at first; I don’t know about longer term!) you get more credits for free. Credits can also be purchased with, y’know, money. Every time you want to do a thing (create a new image, make an image higher-res, etc), you spend a credit or two.

So far, I’m having fun without having given them any money. You can see all of the things that I’ve generated so far on my profile page here, including this one generated from Ai Dungeon’s “The Discomfort” idea in the first image up there. The main things I’ve discovered that one can do so far are:

  • Type in some word or phrase, with optional additions selected from a list of modifiers (like “concept art”, “surrealism”, “watercolor”), and push the button to have it generate an image. That’s how I made “The Discomfort” and “Song of Hidden Beauty” which I rather like, and some others.
  • Give it some existing image (either that it generated, or uploaded from anywhere at all, for instance from dall-e mini) and choose one of a number of “style” images, and push the button to do a “style transfer” from the “style” image to the image that you gave it. See this and this, which are the same image from dall-e mini prompted with “The most beautiful thing in the world”, with two different styles transferred onto it by Nightcafe. (I don’t know if you can have it apply the “style” from one arbitrary picture to another one; that would be neat but probably harder for the engine.)
  • Sort of do both, by giving it both a word or phrase and optional modifiers, and also an existing image (or more than one even maybe), and pushing a button to have it produce something derived from all of that. For instance “The Young Mother” here is a combination of this image (which looks like a pile of cloth to me, but a friend assures me contains body parts) and the phrase “The Young Mother”.
  • Order a physical print of one’s image, suitable for framing and/or hanging! This is a fun thought, and I may do it eventually. It would look good with the Art Breeder image that I had put onto canvas by Google Photos the other month (did I tell y ‘all about that?) and that is now hanging over my bed.
  • Produce NFTs from the images (speaking of our recent posts on that subject). This one is pretty funny, in that the NightCafe site currently has a page called “Create NFT Art”, which basically just says that you can use their stuff to produce a cool image, and then download it and use something else to make an NFT and sell it and stuff. I don’t know if this is just an amusing low-effort way to hook into the NFT hype, or a placeholder for adding a “Make into an NFT on OpenSea” button or whatever later on.

Amusingly, the relevant help / settings text on AI Dungeon says “Creation of NFTs with AI Dungeon 2D is not currently allowed”. For what it’s worth…

Anyway! This is all pretty fun. I feel like the amazingness of GPT-style text generators has somewhat worn off, and their output has a common “convincingly-worded text without any actually understanding behind it” feeling to it, although it look quite awhile for that to happen, and it’s still fun to play with now and then. And I’m already starting to suspect that the (“GPT-style”?) visual art that I’ve been looking at already has that kind of feeling to it, as though even though they can be very different, they still somehow have the same sort of vibe.

(I don’t know if I’m claiming that I could tell an AI-generated sample (of text or art) from a human-generated one in an appropriate set of blind tests. That might be interesting!)

I haven’t to speak of looked into what these things are trained on, for instance. I think to first order it’s some big dataset of images that have had words / descriptions attached to them by humans. How big is it? Are they all based on the same one? Are people looking into other things to train on? Etc etc? I don’t know! Maybe I will find that stuff all out eventually.

Meanwhile, here’s the first image I made with Nightcafe: Frightened Business Men with Lamps (concept art, film noir). Enjoy!

Frightened business men with lamps

Update: And how could I forget, the very notable Twitterbot: ai_curio_bot? Endless AI-generated images based on phrases entered by Twitter users! With a very similar feel yet again; not sure what the backend is here either.