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Alexander Mordvintsev

Alexander Mordvintsev invented Google DeepDream, launching an entirely new subgenre of art using neural networks – and transforming how we visualize images in AI.

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Alexander Mordvintsev is passionate about Emergent Phenomenas, Machine Learning, Computer Graphics and Vision. He loves visualizing things, and is best known for inventing Google DeepDream.

Alexander’s work sparked a fundamental shift in how we visualize what neural networks “see,” helping us understand how AI interprets images based on what it’s seen in the past.

Selected artworks using DeepDream:

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Father Cat

One of the first images ever enhanced with Google DeepDream.

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One of the first images ever enhanced with Google DeepDream.

Mordvintsev on using artificial intelligence:

Can you tell the story of how you came up with DeepDream?

  • “The story behind how I invented DeepDream is true. I remember that night really well. I woke up from a nightmare and decided to try some experiment I had in mind for quite a while at 2:00 AM. That experiment was to try an make a network to add details to some real image to do image super resolution. It turns out it added some details, but not the ones I expected. I describe the process like this: neural networks are systems designed for classifying images. I’m trying to make it do things it is not designed for, like detect some traces of patterns that it is trained to recognize and then trying to amplify them to maximize the signal of the input image. It all started as research for me.”

How did DeepDream impact public interest AI?

  • “I think it is important that everyone can participate in it. The idea that Iana, my wife, tries to convey is that this process of developing artificial intelligence is quite important for all the people and everyone can participate in it. In science, it isn’t about finding the answer, it is more about asking the right question. And the right question can be brought up by anybody. The way I impacted society [with DeepDream] is that a lot of people have told me that they got into machine learning and computer vision as a result of seeing DeepDream. Some people even sent me emails saying they decided to do their Ph.D.s based on DeepDream, and I felt very nice about that. Even the well-known artist Mario Klingemann mentioned that he was influenced by DeepDream in an interview.”

Commentary on Alexander Mordvintsev:

Mario Klingemann:

  • In an interview with Jason Bailey of Artnome, pioneering AI artist Mario Klingemann said this about DeepDream: “The advent of DeepDream was an important moment for me. I still remember the image of this strange creature that was leaked on reddit before anyone even knew how it was made and knew that something very different was coming our way. When the DeepDream notebook and code was finally released by Google a few weeks later, it forced me to learn a lot of new things; most importantly, how to compile and set up Caffe (which was a very painful hurdle to climb over), and also to throw my prejudices against Python overboard. After I had understood how DeepDream worked, I tried to find ways to break out of the PuppySlug territory. Training my own models was one of them. One model I trained on album covers which, among others, had a "skull" category. That one worked quite nicely with DeepDream since it had the tendency to turn any face into a deadhead. Another technique I found was "neural lobotomy," in which I selectively turned off the activations. This gave me some very interesting textures.”

Jason Bailey:

  • In an interview with Jason Bailey of Artnome, Bailey said: “In May of 2015, Alex Mordvintsev’s algorithm for Google DeepDream was waaay ahead of its time… DeepDream produced a range of hallucinogenic imagery that would make Salvador Dali blush. And for a month or so, it infiltrated all of our social media channels, all of the major media outlets, and even became accessible to anyone who wanted to make their own DeepDream imagery via a variety of apps and APIs. With the click of a button, I turned a photo of my wife into a bizarre gremlin with architectural eyes and livestock elbows. And then — “poof” — DeepDream just kind of disappeared. It is the nature of art created with algorithms that when the algorithms are shared with the public, the effect quickly hits a saturation point and becomes kitsch. I personally think DeepDream deserves a longer shelf life, as well as a lot of the credit for our current fascination with machine learning and art… Why do I hold so much reverence for the early DeepDream works? DeepDream is a tipping point where machines assisted in creating images that abstracted reality in ways that humans would not have arrived at on their own. A new way of seeing… I believe DeepDream and AI art in general are an aesthetic breakthrough in the tradition of Georges Seurat’s Pointillism. And to be fair, describing Mordvintsev’s earliest DeepDream images as “just a bunch of cat and dog heads emerging from photos” is as about as reductive as calling A Sunday on La Grande Jatte “a bunch of dots.”

  • In an interview with Jason Bailey of Artnome, Bailey said: “I was curious why so many of the images had dog faces. Alex explained to me that he was using a pretrained network called ImageNet, a standard benchmark for image classification that was established around 2010. ImageNet includes 120 categories of dog breeds to showcase “fine-grained classification.” Because ImageNet dedicates a lot of its capacity to dog breeds, it triggers a strong bias in the data. Alex points out that others have applied the same algorithm to MIT’s Places Image Database. Images from the MIT database tend to highlight architecture and landscapes rather than the dogs and birds favored in the ImageNet database.”

Learn more about Alexander Mordvintsev: