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14 July 2015

We put the Labour leadership candidates into Deep Dream and the results will haunt your nightmares

Google's software searches images for recognisable features, then emphasises them to hellish effect.

By Barbara Speed

In a long summer dominated by the endless, dragging plod of the Labour leadership race, we’re all in desperate need of a new perspective on the four candidates.

So in order to add a little variety to proceedings, we’ve decided to turn to Artificial Intelligence. Image recognition software is becoming more sophisticated every day, and it relies upon being “trained” by seeing hundreds of images of, say, a dog, and then attempting to recognise dogs in new images. Curious to see how these algorithms were actually operating, a team of Google researchers wrote some code which visualised the software’s “thought” process, and then repeated it in a feedback loop.

As the researchers describe it in a blogpost, the algorithm hunts the image for recognisable pieces of information, emphasises them, then repeats: 

If a cloud looks a little bit like a bird, the network will make it look more like a bird. This in turn will make the network recognize the bird even more strongly on the next pass and so forth, until a highly detailed bird appears, seemingly out of nowhere.”

The researchers called the network “Deep Dream”, after the surreal, hellish scenes the feedback loop threw up, and last month, they made the code available to the public. In response, the internet has fed everything from porn to swimming horses through the network. 

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We were curious to know what Deep Dream would make of Cooper, Burnham and co. (and what nightmarish scenarios it would throw up) so we fed photos of each into Dreamscope, one of the many online platforms running the software. Deep Dream can be used to different effects: if it’s looking for particular textures or lines, it will just make the image look artier. But if it’s searching for animals or scary faces, the results quickly become very disturbing. We, of course, went for the latter option. 

Here’s Liz Kendall at a miners’ rally with a group of mutant dogs: 

Andy Burnham, meanwhile, is all eyes:

Jeremy Corbyn has surprises up his sleeves:

While Yvette Cooper monsters some children:

In our humble opinion, Kendall comes out looking most human. Take from that what you will. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to judge the runners and riders without applying the same treatment to their predecessor: 

Here are the leaders of the free world, frolicking together with rats for hands:

And good old Boris Johnson, jolly as ever, unbothered by the beast emerging from his stomach:

Photo: ITV screengrab.

If you want to make your own Deep Dream images, this online app is a good place to start (we used the “trippy” and “self transforming machine elves” options, sometimes multiple times), or there are extensive instructions on how to programme your own in this reddit post. Send us your most horrifying creations. 

Photos: Getty, edited, unless otherwise indicated.