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'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife

Sofia Crespo's neural network nature illustrations are a new case for AI as the artist.

Sofia Crespo's "Artificial Natural History" and "Neural Zoo" projects portray "an imagined nature that has been rearranged." They pose questions not only about the natural world but also about the role machine learning and computer vision could play in art.

As Crespo explains on her website, "our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but the brain is simultaneously aware that those elements don't belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to."

RELATED: NEURAL NETWORKS CAN BE TAUGHT TO HANDLE ORDER AND CHAOS

Endless natural diversity through an AI lens

At first glance, the work of Sofia Crespo's neural network resembles illustrations of the likes of German naturalist Ernst Haeckel, one of several observers at the time who had to draw the natural world around him in a pre-camera age.

'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife
Source: Courtesy of Sofia Crespo

Looking closer though, the work exhibited in Crespo's "Artificial Natural History" is an amalgamation of natural elements combined to make something that looks at best like an optical illusion, at worst like a monstrous mutation.

'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife
Source: Courtesy of Sofia Crespo

As Crespo explains, this is the point: "the specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of," she writes.

'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife
Source: Courtesy of Sofia Crespo

The work displayed here, all from "Artificial Natural History", greatly resembles one of Crespo's other projects, "Neural Zoo", which also reimagines the natural world through the distorted lens of a neural network. 

'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife
Source: Courtesy of Sofia Crespo

Crespo's work — or that of the artificial intelligence (AI) as the WIPO would have us question — is familiar and alien, beautiful and grotesque, much in the same way as the incredibly diverse natural world that surrounds us.

Neural networks enabling 'new experiences of the familiar'

Crespo writes that "starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle."

'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife
Source: Courtesy of Sofia Crespo

"Routines in an artificial neural network become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar," she continues. "Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?"

'Neural Zoo' AI Creates Distorted Drawings of Wildlife
Source: Courtesy of Sofia Crespo

Viewing the natural world through the lens of an AI makes us question how we view that same landscape. What human biases do we stamp onto the natural world around us? 

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