Meet the Ganimals

Ziv Epstein

New generative AI technologies (such as the Generative Adversarial Network, or GAN) can allow us to imagine new species. Hidden within the neural network, there are millions of these "ganimals" that no one has ever seen before. These ganimals occupy a digital landscape not unlike our own, where attention is short, and engagement is necessary to survive.

Meet the Ganimals is a collaborative social experiment to discover new species, breed your own, and feed the ones you love. The data you provide about the ganimals is their "food." Unfed ganimals are quickly forgotten, so ganimals you engage with have a genetic advantage, and breed more often. Thus, to withstand the harsh conditions of the attention economy, ganimals adapt to the crowd’s opinions and preferences. So the question remains, which ganimals do you want to thrive? 

We built Meet the Ganimals to showcase how artificial intelligence can not only generate images of realistic animals, but also images of believable hybrid animals. These hybrid animals are created with a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), which we baked into their name: ganimals. When we combine a Goldfish with a Golden Retriever, the result is a combination of the most striking features of both animals: a bright orange, big eyed, mopey-eared underwater canine. What the AI features is based on the idiosyncrasies of an animal relative to the pool of animals that we have selected. For ganimals, the striking and transferrable morphological features are stripes on a zebra, eyes on dogs, the shape of a great white shark, the color of goldfish, the feathers of an owl, and many more. One could argue that the biodiversity of ganimals rivals that of the natural world. Artificial evolution is not constrained by the laws of the physical world and fitness but instead the limits of our imagination and our aesthetic tastes. We can curate ganimals by adapting the AI model or adding and removing images of species on which to train the model.

The Meet the Ganimals website is an online social experiment to see what happens when we allow our aesthetic interests to guide evolution. Our goal is to direct thousands of people to the website in order to see how these new artificial life forms evolve, and what dynamics emerge. This number of people is critical for us to properly understand how aesthetic interests guide evolution.