AI will rewrite the history of memes

AI Video & Visuals

Anyone who hangs around the internet is familiar with the image: a man staring at a passing woman with a look that would make Joey Tribbiani blush, “How are you?” The “distracted boyfriend” meme, which projects various scenarios onto this stock photo, has been burned into the internet's collective consciousness since it first appeared in 2017. Now, artificial intelligence has blurred our memory of this viral moment, along with dozens of other memes.

AI-generated clips currently making the rounds online, particularly on TikTok, known as “time traveler” videos, take familiar memes and add context to them that hadn't been seen before. In some cases, they “interrupt” the action or feature ghosts. In one “Distracted Boyfriend” animation posted to X (formerly Twitter) last month, a boyfriend turns around and chases a girl walking in the opposite direction while his girlfriend stands nearby.

The video was created using the Luma Dream Machine, an AI model that takes source images and text prompts and creates high-quality, realistic videos. Within days of its launch, social media users began borrowing images and frames from recognizable memes to create visuals that tested the Dream Machine's generative capabilities. The results proved that while the AI ​​model is not perfect, it is capable of rewriting internet history by altering some of the web's most enduring images.

As the Dream Machine became more widespread, the model's output began to show visual limitations and imperfections common to generative AI, such as unnatural depictions of humans and distorted objects. Some social media users found the visuals scary and worrying in terms of AI acceleration and the potential for generating false alarms, while others found the model's incoherent errors amusing.

While it may be unsettling to think that an AI-altered meme could become so widespread that it surpasses the image it was created from, Phillip Hamilton, editor of Know Your Meme, doesn't think the trend poses a significant threat to digital media preservation. Rather, the success of reboots is due to the ubiquity of the original.

“Generally, everyone knows the context,” Hamilton says of the edited viral image. “The symbolism of the video is at the heart of the trend, [time-traveler] A meme is something that is popular and can be stopped.”

Sharing memes on social media revolves around the user's interaction with the meme, which is mostly a result of editing, so Hamilton said it's fine to use AI to edit memes.

Luma boasts that Dream Machine can generate 120 frames of high-quality video in under 120 seconds, although it is experiencing significant delays due to extremely high demand. This fast generation, along with the availability of a “free” tier that allows users to generate up to 30 clips per month, makes Dream Machine much more accessible than OpenAI's Sora, which was announced in February but has not yet been made publicly available.

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