Opened A Little Early

Dearest Rachel –

It seems a bit inappropriate to make such a comparison, especially considering that it involves you – the idea of thinking of a person as a toy or plaything, when expressed in that way, seems repugnant – but I feel like a kid who has just gotten the chance to open one of his Christmas presents a little early. Not that anyone would have been able to pick this out for me – I’d have had to find this for myself – but it doesn’t make this any less fun, or meaningful.

I’m going to try to explain, but I think this letter will be a lot fewer words and a lot more pictures. But I think you’ll understand – and hopefully appreciate – what I’m trying to do.

I’ve mentioned a few times about my efforts to have your image captured in an anime style at the conventions that I’ve been to since you had to go. Of course, I’m no artist, and I’ve been having difficulty adequately conveying to even willing artists what it is I’m looking for (to be fair, I’m not entirely sure myself, exactly). So the results have been rather… hit or miss.

They aren’t quite what I’m looking for (although some of them are impressively done, don’t get me wrong), but since I don’t have any drawing or drafting skills, what choice do I have? I’m kind of at the mercy of the artist’s envisioning of my description of you.

Enter artificial intelligence.

It turns out that, while we’re nowhere near Black Mirror technology yet – not that I’d mind it if we were (and, given your own affinity for the show and its subject matter, neither would you, I believe) – the last couple of years have absolutely exploded in terms of computer-generated art. You’ll recall my halting attempts to understand various programs that were supposed to create music in the style of various composers and artists, in an effort to create original background music for that abortive channel; I never did manage to understand how it worked, and with your passing, naturally, the entire project got set aside. But I have been trying to keep up with other aspects of the technology, and it seems that the visual arts have made some impressive strides over these last couple of years – indeed, during the past couple of months, some new programs have appeared that have some pretty robust capabilities.

And that’s what I discovered yesterday. Well, to be fair, I’ve been looking at a number of sites over the past couple of months (which is why I can say that the technology has been improving throughout that short period of time), many of based on a program called DreamBooth. The particular one I found yesterday is called Astria, and it allows me to train the program with a couple dozen photographs – and without having to learn how to code in Python or whatever the DreamBooth system appears to require (which is nice, because I was racking my brain for the last week or so off and on, trying to figure out how to even set Python up, let alone create a DreamBooth bot to train). It still takes a bit of practice to give it an idea of what I’m looking for (and even so, it doesn’t seem to grasp the idea of what a ‘haibane’ is – evidently that series was just too obscure for it to really know what to make of it), but the results are really rather impressive, seeing as I’m just feeling my way around.

Of course, there’s more to the program than anime-style drawings; I can imagine you in all sorts of art styles, in fact:

As you can see, this gets addictive really fast. There are so many possibilities of how to depict you, and if I run out of ideas (or can’t figure out how to express it in terms of art style or background or pose or props), the site links to a gallery of other examples and their descriptions that I can use.

In fact, it got to the point where I set myself up in the office upstairs at home while the boys were watching stuff together, pulled up the website… and didn’t notice the time until three hours had passed. By then, Logan had retired to his room, my laundry was waiting to be transferred to the dryer, and I’d missed a call from Lars about walking today; I’m going to have to apologize and maybe even explain what happened. He might even find what I’d been doing to be intriguing, for all I know.

Of course, while I might use words like ‘intriguing’ or ‘fascinating’ to describe this, I know at least one person who might find this to be a little bit disturbing. No guesses as to whom. Because, not only can one make artworks out of photos, one can make other photos out of them, building fake memories that look so real:

Yeah, none of these are real, but you’d have to be told that. And as impressive as this might be, I can see where a living person could be put into a situation where they would be less than happy with being in. Maybe she’s right to be afraid of being captured on camera; maybe the camera really does take a piece of your soul with it.

But if it does, I’m glad to have these pieces here with me to treasure and share. I hope you don’t mind too much.

Anyway, I should let you go, and talk to you later. Until then, keep an eye on me, and wish me luck; I’m going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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