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Grumpy Cat is dead, but will live on through AI

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Internet sensation Grumpy Cat passes away


Grumpy Cat died at seven years old. She was one of the most famous pet influencers, with over 2 million followers on Instagram.

Grumpy Cat — the angry-looking celebrity feline who launched countless internet memes — died on Tuesday. The beloved cat leaves behind her owner Tabatha Bundesen, a small empire of books and merchandise bearing her unique face, movie and TV appearances, and millions of Google hits.

Grumpy Cat is also likely to live on in one particular area of technology: artificial intelligence.

Images spread across the internet are often collected by researchers and used to train artificial intelligence algorithms to do tasks like recognize people or animals in images, or even learn how to generate wholly new images of people or animals.

There are millions of images of Grumpy Cat online, so it should come as no surprise that they appear to be influencing the faux cats generated by at least one AI system. The cat could show up in datasets containing images from the internet — and in results that emerge from these datasets — shaping AI in a grouchy way for years to come.

Grumpy Cat, whose real name was Tardar Sauce, had feline dwarfism; she became Internet famous in September 2012, when her owner’s brother posted images of her on Reddit. People on the platform immediately reacted by posting countless Photoshopped variations of the original. The photo’s Imgur page reached 1,030,000 views in its first 48 hours, and a video of the cat posted on YouTube quickly snagged millions of views.

These days, searching Google for “Grumpy Cat” returns nearly 73 million results, many of which are photos. Grumpy Cat proliferated online, often as memes posted with big, blocky white text that say everything from “Come back … I haven’t finished insulting you yet” to simply “No.” There are also countless pictures on the internet of Grumpy-Cat inspired merchandise: pillows, shirts, mugs, slippers and more.

Janelle Shane, a research scientist working on a book that uses humor to explain AI, also noticed recently that an AI system came up with numerous artificial cats that looked an awful lot like Grumpy Cat.

The AI system, called StyleGAN, was developed by researchers at computer-chip maker Nvidia and released earlier this year. While it initially focused on using a set of Creative-Commons-licensed images of people from Flickr to create faux faces, the researchers also used an existing dataset of cat images — part of a larger dataset of various images collected by Princeton Researchers from the internet — to see what kinds of cats StyleGAN could make.

Shane spent time poring over thousands of the results, and she told CNN Business that she was surprised she didn’t have to look through many to find images suspiciously similar to the iconic cat. In a couple thousand images, for example, she found at least two dozen.

“We’re not talking wall-to-wall Grumpy Cat, but you don’t have to look very long,” she told CNN Business.

Some of the manufactured Grumpy Cats even included what looked like garbled meme text: the right kind of font (white with a black outline), but in what didn’t look quite like real words.

Shane didn’t go through all the images in the dataset to confirm Grumpy Cat is in there, and if so how often, but she expects there are plenty of images of the famous cat included. (Researchers who put together the dataset did not immediately return requests for comment.) And while it’s unknown just how many images of Grumpy Cat are in AI datasets — or out on the internet at large, for that matter — Shane expects Grumpy Cat will be in plenty of them, given the cat’s popularity and the propensity for AI researchers to share and reuse datasets.

“A little part of her could be in AI for years and years,” she said.

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