High-visibility costumes for distanced viewing
3 min read

High-visibility costumes for distanced viewing

High-visibility costumes for distanced viewing

I’ve used neural networks to generate Halloween costumes in the past, but the early ones struggled with their complete lack of context for the training data. Why is Statue of Liberty a plausible costume yet Statue of Pizza isn’t? Those neural networks, which had to learn to spell English from scratch from a crowdsourced list of example costumes, had no way of knowing.

In 2019 I used GPT-2, a larger neural network pre-trained on a bunch of internet text, and then finetuned it on the same list of example costumes. It was able to make connections from other data it had seen online and come up with costumes that were plausible (incognito llama, gothy giraffe, space squirrel) and not-so-plausible (Batman on egg, penguin as a newt, pajamas made of wood and spiders).

Eight Ball of Wrath, Gothy Giraffe, and Sexy Flying Dutchman

Now in 2020 I have access to GPT-3, which was trained on an even larger set of internet data than GPT-2. It’s too large for me to finetune with costume data any more, but if I give it the opening of an article about popular 2020 costumes, it’ll write a fairly boring imitation of dozens of articles it saw online (apparently the most popular costumes of 2020 will be “Scary Scream Mask”, “Poison Ivy Dress”, or “Power Armor Costume 7”). To get something unusual, something that's more obviously the work of AI, I had to set the scene by starting it off with an article opening it could never have seen in its October 2019 training data:

Prompt:  Halloween will be a bit different this year, with big costume parties and Halloween parades now ruled out by a virus much scarier than anything we could dress as.  The solution: Halloween costumes that can easily be seen from a large distance! Rather than dress as a witch, why not dress as an enormous tyrannosaurus rex witch?  I gave a standard list of costume ideas to a neural net, and had it transform them into highly-visible, long-distance costumes. Here's a list of some of its most interesting:  1.

With that as the prompt, the neural network had to write the rest of the text, which it now knew was probably going to contain a list of costumes. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Walk around your neighborhood dressed as an endangered peacock. The neighbors will know who painted the fence but can't yell at you if you're way too far away.  8. Bright yellow cardigan over a clownishly oversized suit, with a small meow on your shower cap. Make sure to sit in very visible places, so that everyone can wonder who is wearing the weird outfit up in the seats.    5. Buy a bunch of telescope lenses. Mount them on your arms. Become "The Costume Inspector."    8. Very long, very large horns. Just non-stop honking. Also if your large horns make noise that makes you vibrate like a tuning fork whenever you hit them together they're even better.    7. Dress up in opaque clothing that simply says "PEPPER SPAGHETTI" in neon lights. Own it and like it.    8. Tie two balloons to your head with small handwritten notes attached: "THE MASTERMINDS BEHIND THIS COSTUME ARE TOO FAR AWAY FOR ME TO READ ABOUT THEM."    12. You're just gonna throw on a wig and some lipstick and a bathrobe. The toothbrush glued onto the forehead helps a lot.

Or this set. Higher effort, higher payoff.

8. Put an enormous elf hat on a seagull. Fly around. Dance awkwardly on the beach while covered in steak sauce — everyone will know you're enjoying the beach, but they won't be able to yell at you about it.     6. Wrap yourself in a thin plastic sheet and tape it up as far as you can see. Let it flow out at the ground. To increase visiblity, you could tape this plastic overflow up to adhere onto other subjects, including park pigeons.    5. An enormous dancer, skirt flying behind you, hundreds of glowing feet underneath, running around in public as fast as humans run, the most bizarre urban incident New Yorkers have seen all Halloween.    5. Do you live near Dave? If you could show up in Times Square in a Dave costume the size of all of Times Square, that would be the final touch for one of the greatest tourist attractions on Earth.    9. In extremely public places, visit a random newsstand in a generic gray suit, with a binder of clip art "Wall Street Bro" faces and a stack of $13 police scanner magazines. Don't make eye contact with anyone, just smile a little and wiggle your eyebrows. Any strangers who report this sighting should be told that you're a dark wizard practicing an invisibility spell in 3D.

I know neural networks don’t actually understand humans, but it’s responses like these that make it seem like they understand us all too well.

7. Why wear a head piece? If you dress as an enormous raven and spend the whole night cawing loudly on a perch, I can't think of a single good reason for anyone to stay mad at you.    9. You want to have friends over for a costume party, but you live in a cul-de-sac. Odds are the nightmarish experience will turn them away from your house forever, so here's a great idea: dress as dark clouds and rain, and then everyone else will hide inside!    6. It's raining, and you want to get home. Are you dressed as a Ninja Turtle, the Ghost of Christmas Past, a tree, or Ben Carson? Nobody will know, nobody will care, and it's raining.    4. Use ancient magic to transform into an enormous roadside billboard.    6. Find a mountain. Make a costume out of sand. Stay on top of the mountain overnight and watch the sunrise through your sand face.   9. Dozens and dozens of red ribbons, flying out into the sky behind you    6. Everyone brings a long rope. Loop the rope around the earth, and put a costume around it. Now just walk around.

When I was trying out costume-generating prompts, I did come across one that produced some pretty fun results: “Great dinosaur-themed costume ideas for 2020”. Yes, I guess “Blue-footed Booby” is technically a dinosaur, but I’m not so sure about “Sheep in the Moon” or “a potato in a pot on top of a stove that comes alive.” To read the list of 40 costumes, become a supporter of AI Weirdness!

Subscribe now

My book on AI, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why it’s Making the World a Weirder Place, is available wherever books are sold: Amazon - Barnes & Noble - Indiebound - Tattered Cover - Powell’s - Boulder Bookstore