Friday 12 May 2023

Artificial Intelligence and the Loch Ness Monster

There has been some chat on Nessie forums recently about AI and how it may affect the search for the Loch Ness Monster. I wish to address two points of view on this nascent technology. First is the matter of image creation applications which have this so called artificially intelligent attribute. The image above is one such example that recently surfaced on Internet forums. It is expected that such candidates deceptively submitted as proof of the monster will make it harder to distinguish real untampered images from these fakes.

Now, ever since the 1930s, researchers have had to contend with deceptive images from Loch Ness, though image manipulation did not arrive until much later on. Theories on what is actually in a given image can abound, even to the point of people being dogmatic even though a photograph is far from being the objective alternative to a subjective eyewitness testimony that some think it is.

AI generated images are not quite the quantum leap they are made out to be in terms of quality. Such images have been created by skilled people for a long time. The difference now is that the image creation program needs a lot less skill from the user and the program becomes the artist itself. The user is now more  the client who specifies the subject of the image, the style of it, background and uploads of previous images that are to be blended in and so on. The bar to entry will now be lower and that means  more such images appearing on the Internet.

Looking around at current AI generated images of the Loch Ness Monster, the vast majority look cartoonish, scaly dinosaur-like, dragon-like, stylized or not photo-realistic such as the one below. The backgrounds can also bear little resemblance to Loch Ness but the objective is to have some fun and be creative with your favourite subjects. The one at the top of this article looks more like an attempt to be realistic.

The image is not difficult to question as there are one too many quirky features to it but if someone did try and pass off a similar type of image as a genuine incident, it would have to pass through the normal stages of investigation. Researchers approach this from different angles. Some visually examine the picture for departures from the reality of the actual location, date and time. The object of interest is of course scrutinized for incongruities and similarities to everyday phenomena.

Another approach is to use Google to search for similar images available on the Internet and it is possible one may come across the original photograph minus the "monster" and other special effects. Google has its own image search facility or one can manually look for it. In fact, Google will soon release an enhanced version of their image search tool to help identify fake images generated by AI or people (article here).

Google going forward will tag the metadata of any image created with their own AI tools as an AI-generated image and others providers are expected to follow suit. The problem is some may not. Metadata, or information about the image, has been a factor in image analysis for some time. Digital camera metadata will record information about date of creation, image format and camera settings to aid assessment.

By way of example, here are two screenshots of another water horse based on a picture I took with my Samsung smartphone. They are of one of the Kelpie statues near Falkirk, Scotland. The first is copied straight from the phone onto my laptop and has the same metadata as the image in the phone's memory. The second image has been altered by adding the words "this image has been altered" to the top left.

This results in differences in the image specifics. The file and original dates are different as are the file sizes, number of colours, etc. In all cases, the original image must be examined but that is not a given. We have had a couple of instances in recent years where hoaxers were less than helpful in producing a bona fide original image. I think of Ricky "random log" Phillips and Steve "catfish" Challice. As regards the image at the top of the page, a look at its metadata revealed no EXIF data on camera parameters as one would expect from a digital camera image.


That may not be an issue as such data can be lost during a conversion process such as JPEG to GIF. But if you push further and they do not produce the original, the picture should be rejected. So the tools are there and also improving but that will not stop people producing these images if it means they get their five minutes of fame on the mainstream media websites. You may conclusively prove the image is a fraud to those who are listening, but too many media outlets want the clickbait to draw in viewers, be it a genuine image or not. Twas ever thus.


The other more positive aspect of AI I tested in regard to the Loch Ness Monster is ChatGPT, an artificially intelligent chatbot developed by the tech company OpenAI which went online last November. ChatGPT interacts with users in a conversational style but can do other tasks such as write music, business reports and summarize texts. Users can rate the responses and offer feedback thus feeding into the program's learning in the manner of any human who improves as they interact with others. I began by asking it the obvious question - what is the Loch Ness Monster? The initial response was:

The Loch Ness Monster, also known as "Nessie," is a legendary creature said to inhabit Loch Ness, a large freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands. According to popular belief, Nessie is a large, long-necked aquatic reptile or dinosaur-like creature that has eluded capture and scientific study for decades.

The first recorded sighting of Nessie dates back to 565 AD when Saint Columba is said to have encountered a "water beast" in the River Ness. However, the modern legend of Nessie began in 1933 when a local newspaper reported the sighting of a large creature in Loch Ness. Since then, there have been many reported sightings, photographs, and videos of Nessie, although most of them have been proven to be hoaxes or misidentifications of other objects or animals.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster remains a popular subject of folklore and a significant tourist attraction in Scotland.

That answer is fair enough for a few sentences. One may hesitate to call it AI if it was just scraping the Internet for texts to stitch together. Well, that is a bit simplistic as it has done something quite difficult as it extracts the priority facts required out of many possible source texts, summarize them, put them in order and render it readable to a human. ChatGPT was basically doing the same job as a human journalist would do to create a couple of paragraphs to sum up the mystery. It may have even done it better than some humans. There is the option to ask the same question again and ChatGPT attempted a more refined answer:

The Loch Ness Monster, also known as "Nessie," is a legendary creature said to inhabit Loch Ness, a large freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands. According to popular belief, Nessie is a large aquatic animal that resembles a plesiosaur, a type of prehistoric reptile that lived during the dinosaur era. The first reports of a creature in Loch Ness date back to the 6th century, but it was not until the 1930s that the modern legend of Nessie began to take shape, fueled by a series of alleged sightings and photographs.

Despite numerous expeditions and scientific studies, there is no concrete evidence that the Loch Ness Monster actually exists. Many scientists believe that the reported sightings are likely misidentifications of known animals, such as seals or large fish, or simply hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural phenomena. Nevertheless, the legend of Nessie continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and the search for evidence of the creature remains a popular pastime and subject of speculation.

Now that is all well and good, but I wanted to exercise its creative "thinking" a bit more. I asked what equipment is used to hunt the Loch Ness Monster?

As far as I know, there is no specific equipment designed to hunt the Loch Ness Monster, as it is widely believed to be a mythical creature and its existence has not been scientifically proven. However, there have been numerous attempts to find evidence of the creature's existence using various methods, such as sonar imaging, underwater cameras, and even submarines. Some people have also claimed to have captured photographs or videos of the creature using standard cameras or smartphones. However, the authenticity of these sightings and evidence has been widely debated and remains inconclusive.

The "as far as I know" indeed suggests a lack of accuracy as equipment has been designed for hunting the monster, such as the AAS underwater sonar/camera rigs. However, I did not ask for such examples, only for any general equipment used. So we get sonar, underwater cameras, submarines and cameras which is not an exhaustive list. There is no mention of binoculars, drones, hydrophones, bait and so on. I asked for a refined answer:

There is no equipment specifically designed for hunting the Loch Ness Monster, as its existence has not been scientifically proven. However, some people have attempted to search for the creature using various tools, such as:

Sonar equipment: Some researchers have used sonar to scan the depths of Loch Ness in search of any large, unidentified objects.

Underwater cameras: Underwater cameras have been used to capture images and videos of the underwater environment in Loch Ness, but no definitive evidence of the monster has been captured.

Submarines and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs): These devices can explore the depths of Loch Ness without putting humans in danger, and may be able to capture high-quality images and videos of any potential creatures in the water.

Bait and lures: Some people have attempted to lure the Loch Ness Monster to the surface by using food or other bait.

It's worth noting that despite decades of searching and numerous expeditions, no conclusive evidence of the Loch Ness Monster's existence has been found.

So, I don't think anything was added here apart from bait and lures. Again, it insists no specialist equipment exists, which is not what I asked and again it feels the need to be an Artificial Sceptic by telling me no equipment has found anything. I stopped there and wanted to try another approach to test its creativity more. That was to ask it for suggestions about new ways to hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. Now searching the Internet for that kind of answer would prove to be more challenging. I asked it to suggest new ways of hunting the Loch Ness Monster:

As an AI language model, I do not support or encourage any activities that could potentially harm the environment or any living beings. However, I can suggest some non-invasive ways to search for the Loch Ness Monster:

Conduct an aerial survey: Using drones or helicopters equipped with high-definition cameras, scientists and researchers can conduct an aerial survey of the loch to look for any unusual activity on the surface of the water.

Use sonar technology: Advanced sonar equipment can be used to map the loch's underwater terrain and to detect any large, moving objects.

Deploy underwater cameras: Placing underwater cameras at various depths in the loch can help capture any evidence of the creature's existence.

Conduct environmental DNA analysis: Researchers can collect water samples from different locations in the loch and analyze them for traces of DNA from any unknown species.

Set up a network of acoustic sensors: Placing a network of acoustic sensors in the loch can help detect any unusual sounds or vocalizations that could potentially be coming from the creature.

It's worth noting that despite numerous reported sightings over the years, there is currently no scientific evidence that proves the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. Any search for the creature should be conducted with the utmost respect for the environment and its inhabitants.

Okay, that was very eco-friendly with its concern for Nessie, but all these things have been done, although they could be done in new ways. The network of acoustic sensors has not really been done at Loch Ness. So maybe something there from ChatGPT. I then suspected I was not framing the question properly by using that word "hunting" which was not taken in it metaphorical sense by ChatGPT. I replaced it with "searching":

The search for the Loch Ness Monster has been ongoing for decades, but so far, no conclusive evidence has been found. However, here are some new ways to potentially search for the Loch Ness Monster:

Underwater Drones: Using advanced underwater drones with high-resolution cameras and sonar systems, researchers can search the depths of the Loch Ness with greater accuracy and detail than ever before. This technology could potentially uncover new evidence of the creature's existence.

DNA Analysis: Researchers could use DNA analysis to search for any traces of genetic material left behind by the Loch Ness Monster. This could involve taking water samples from the Loch Ness and using advanced genetic sequencing technology to look for any unique genetic markers that could be associated with the creature.

Satellite Imagery: Satellite imagery could be used to search for any unusual patterns or movements in the Loch Ness. Advanced satellite imaging technology could potentially detect any disturbances in the water caused by the creature.

Night Vision Cameras: Night vision cameras could be used to capture images of the Loch Ness Monster at night, when it is believed to be most active. These cameras could be set up around the Loch Ness to monitor any unusual activity.

Augmented Reality: Augmented reality technology could be used to create virtual simulations of the Loch Ness and its surrounding areas, allowing researchers to explore the Loch Ness in a virtual environment and potentially uncover new clues about the creature's existence.

While these methods may not guarantee the discovery of the Loch Ness Monster, they do represent new and innovative ways to search for this elusive creature.

Again, most have been thought of before, but admittedly some such as underwater drones and night vision cameras have been barely used. The augmented reality proposal sounds intriguing, though I am not sure there is enough data to achieve it? Perhaps that is one for the future. I asked for a regenerated response which added one more new option of crowdsourcing:

Crowdsourcing: With the widespread use of social media, it is possible to mobilize a large number of people to search the loch and share their findings online, increasing the likelihood of detecting any unusual activity.

That sounds very much like the multiple webcams recently installed at the loch and watched by many around the world, including a certain Eoin. So, nothing there totally surprising apart from augmented reality. Perhaps that is because we have been racking our human brains for decades, lol. But then again, ChatGPT only got into the subject days ago I suspect. As to other possibilities missed out by ChatGPT but thought of by us humans we have thermal night drones, tethered drones and radar sweeps of the loch surface. You heard it from Homo Sapiens here first!

So the Loch Ness equivalent of SkyNet has gone live. Disruptive technology always stirs things up. You split the atom and end up with 10 megaton bombs or nuclear power stations. You decode DNA and end up with gene therapy or leaks from virology labs. Let us see where this leads us.

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