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Anti-Pattern: Nightmare Fuel



An AI that generates imagery can be capable of producing some very unsettling material, especially when it combines otherwise innocent sources in unexpected ways. The user does not want to be freaked out by this. 

A screenshot of the app "Artbreeder" showing some nightmarish imagery it has generated.
Artbreeder combines images of innocent objects to produce horrible things.

Anti-Pattern Response:

The system generates bizarre and disturbing imagery, which can include distorted faces, scary chimeras, unpleasant mutations, unsettling textures, terrifying landscapes, and so on — imagery that is better suited to a horror film, but can even surpass what the human imagination can conjure up on its own. In most cases, a system generates this imagery without much warning to the user that this is a possibility. 


The capacity for AI imagery to unnerve us is immense but is often only discussed as a byproduct of AI’s ability to surprise us with its weirdness. If a system generates imagery and the intent is not to disturb, there are some very deep psychological responses that we should be aware of and avoid if possible, or at least caution the user about — at best there is a risk of negative reaction to the apparently familiar being twisted into dreamlike shapes, but at worst there can be a visceral repulsion, a nausea-inducing or otherwise deeply unpleasant sensation of wrongness. 

Of course, what we find desirable or not can be very subjective— what one person considers to be horrid Nightmare Fuel might be someone else’s pleasurable Dreamlike Novelty.