Ghost in the Machine
An unexpected guest visits an AI Designer
I need a set of images for this. Something spooky.
The campaign had been on his mind for some time. It would be a promotional campaign that could run across multiple social platforms with a branded set of complimentary images and professional typography. The client was an up-and-coming novelist who wrote an awesome suspense thriller, and the artist thought some spooky images of a suburban neighborhood would be a good place to start.
He sat down at the keyboard and began typing a prompt.
Suburban neighborhood at sunset.
The software generated the image.
The result from his AI art assistant was good, but could be better, he thought.
A little bit mundane.
He edited the prompt.
Spooky suburban neighborhood, dusk, attractively lit by house lights and street lamps.
He lived alone and the house was dark and quiet other than his studio. The computer whirred softly under the light of his desk lamp as the software processed the request and generated a new image.
Now we’re talking.
The resulting image was much more in line with the visual theme he imagined.
Let’s see if we can push it a little further.
He entered a new prompt.
Spooky suburban neighborhood where a killer lurks, dusk, attractively lit by house lights and street lamps.
Again the progress meter twirled and the software generated another new image.
Definitely hitting the mark, now.
The man clicked ‘Regenerate’ and, as the progress wheel began to spin once again, he made a note of his settings and parameters. He would want to mimic them with subsequent images so they all came out feeling as though they were part of a branded, themed set.
The new image appeared on the screen.
“Well, hello there, Miss,” he said out loud. “Where did you come from?”
He examined the image. It was moody and eerie but he wanted images without any people in them. He tapped a few keystrokes and clicked ’Regenerate.’
The image appeared on his monitor and the man smirked.
“Well, you’re definitely cute,” he said. “Unfortunately, you gotta go, honey.”
The image was good and the streetlamps were attractive but how to get rid of the girl in the images while keeping the vibe wasn’t immediately clear. He thought for a moment, then typed a new prompt.
Abandoned suburban neighborhood where a killer lurks, dusk, attractively lit by house lights and street lamps.
The progress wheel spun again and the AI software spat out another image.
“Okay, what the fuck?” he said. The word ‘abandoned’ had not banished the girl from the images.
Maybe it’s the ‘where a killer lurks’ bit of the prompt that’s inserting a person into the scene.
He modified the prompt again.
Abandoned suburban neighborhood, dusk, attractively lit by house lights and street lamps. No people.
The image appeared on his screen and the man gasped.
What the fuck is going with this thing tonight?
He ran down a troubleshooting routine in his head as he looked at the image when a thought occurred to him.
Is that the same girl?
He looked back at his previous generations. He wasn’t just getting people in his images, he was getting the same person in his images.
He clicked ‘Regenerate’ again and waited.
“Fuck me,” he said.
It’s definitely the same girl.
He’d read that AI software could sometimes get stuck on certain depictions with certain prompts. He couldn’t think of any other explanation for it.
From somewhere behind him, there was a noise.
The man’s head snapped around and his eyes darted back and forth, searching the darkness, his brow furrowed. He got up from his desk and stepped silently through the archway leading to the living room in only his socks.
Again, a noise. In the dark, a set of bifold closet doors rattled very slightly. The man crept toward the door, reached out his hand, grabbed the knob and began to pull the doors open.
The flimsy doors crashed as his cat burst through the opening, desperate to be free from its closet prison.
“Fritz!” he yelled, startled. “Goddamn, cat!”
The orange tabby was already at his food dish and looked at him as if to say “What?”
“How long were you trapped in there, man?” the man asked. He had done his laundry when he got home from work three hours earlier.
The man retrieved a cup of coffee from the kitchen, then went back to his studio. He had to figure out the glitch in the AI software so he could get his images and branding package done.
He sat down, took a drink of his coffee, then set the cup down. He clicked ‘Regenerate’ one more time and the progress wheel went around.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he said.
The same mysterious girl appeared in the image. He’d been a designer for many years, but he was somewhat new to AI, and he didn’t have an engineering background, so this was something of a mystery to him.
He hadn’t entered any data to dictate the zoom or depth of field, but the girl’s image got closer to the “camera,” all on its own. Like she was saying “Look at me.”
He sat back in his desk chair and looked at the ceiling.
“I know what’ll fix this problem,” he said.
From his desk drawer, he retrieved a small silver box. The lid read ”Silent Lake Insurance.” He removed it and took out a thin, neatly rolled joint and lighter and set them on the desk. He went to the window, cracked it at the top, then angled the blinds so people on the ground floor couldn’t see in.
He sat down in his desk chair and retrieved the joint, placing one twisted end between his lips and holding the lighter to the other end. With his thumb he flicked the wheel on the lighter and it sparked.
He flicked it again, and it sparked again, but it did not light.
Flick. Flick. Flick.
It sparked every time but it did not light.
“Goddamn it,” he said.
He didn’t have matches in the house, he knew that. The girl stared back at him from the monitor. He hopped to his feet and went back to the window and looked out. The corner store was still open.
They have lighters.
He grabbed his coat and keys and hustled out the door, down two flights of stairs to the ground floor and out to the sidewalk. The benefit of living in the city was the corner store was a two-minute walk. In short order he had a lighter in hand, plus a can of tuna for poor Fritz. He went through the checkout and said “Hello” to his favorite cashier as Sophie B. Hawkins warbled from the overhead speakers.
He was on his way out the door, into the foyer of the convenience store. There were racks overflowing with free newspapers and the community bulletin board, like any local store, and he had been in that foyer a thousand times. For some reason on that night, he looked up for just a moment as he was leaving, and a notice on the community bulletin board caught his eye.
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