Mutating Pictures


Q: What's Mutating Pictures?
A: At, a population of 1000 random pictures each was created in October 2007. You allow the fittest pictures to survive. The higher your rating for a pic the more mutated offspring it produces.

Q: What happens during a mutation?
A: The higher the rating, the more offspring a picture creates. Each offspring randomly changes the position of a percentage of (randomly selected) polygons.

Q: Can a picture die?
A: Yes, as the population of each pool is constant at 1000 pictures, every single offspring picture "kills" a random older one. During the first 24 hours of the experiment, some of the oldest members of the pool might only have been some minutes old; generations turned very fast.

Q: Is the rating system too imprecise and subjective? Aren't the picture goals (face, animal) ambiguous?
A: In general, yes the rating system is subjective and the goals and pictures are ambiguous. But these mutations work on large numbers, so different approaches can cancel each other out. Differently put, it doesn't matter what any single person, taken on their own, sees in a picture or rates; it only matters if this rating approach is "stable" across many people who rate.

Q: Is there any manual tweaking going on?
A: There's no tweaking on polygon or individual image basis. The only "tweaking" that happens was my adjustment of such general algorithms as the rating-to-offspring factor. For instance, in the beginning a rating of 2 might have resulted in 2 offspring pictures, but a while later I tuned it so it results only in 1 (or zero) offspring pics. (One reason to scale this was 'cause the server went down...)

Q: How many ratings took place so far? In which generation is a picture?
A: I don't track the number of ratings, or individual picture generations, as I don't want to create a database bottleneck on the server. However, the first day saw 70,000+ visits (each perhaps creating a number of ratings). Since then, traffic slowed down to a couple of 1000 visits per day.

Q: Do pictures "mate" among each other to create offspring?
A: No... each mutation is just based on the parent picture.

Q: Do different pools affect each other?
A: Technically there's no direct "cross pool" influence.

Q: Why are there so many male warrior faces appearing?
A: The edgy style of triangle drawings, as well as the type of audience who helped rating, may have influenced the outcome. But your speculation is as good as mine, as the outcome of this experiment is as surprising to me as it may be to you.

Q: How long has this experiment been going on?
A: Since October 1st, 2007. Some other pools have been added later; the first face pool is the oldest one.

Q: Can I use the images on my own site?
A: Yes, feel free to take anything you see here and work with it, republish it etc. using this Creative Commons license. (You can just attribute the pictures to as no single individual created them.)

Q: Why do this experiment, and what inspired it?
A: This is just out of interest to see how well this works, and in what pictures it results in, and so we all get perhaps some inspiration or further ideas out of it (the goal is not to reach a specific defined image, as the question that's asked is ambiguous). This experiment was inspired by looking at a screenshot of Space Invaders, as the simple pixel-based enemy sprites almost look like pixel mutations, plus I wanted to start something like this for a long time already.

Q: Where can I grab the loading animation for my own app?
I took the load indicator from the Activity Indicator page/ Jakob Skjerning.

Q: What technology is used to draw the images?
No Flash, just the JavaScript/ Canvas model on Firefox, as well as the cool ExplorerCanvas wrapper for Internet Explorer (the ExplorerCanvas wrapper was created by the Google employees Emil A. Eklund, Erik Arvidsson and Glen Murphy).

Q: Are there other projects of this kind?
There's Face Maker, Pixel Group, Click Survey/ Click Survey 2, CrowdChess, CHI, Mechanical Turk, or sites like Digg. If you know of more please let me know...

Q: Is there some best-of gallery of mutations?
There's a blog post covering some images, and you can always view a real-time snapshot of the progress. I'm also backing up a snapshot for each pool at least once a day.

Q: Where can I write feedback, get involved, ask additional questions and so on?
You can discuss the experiment with us in the forum thread for this. You can also email me, Philipp Lenssen, at