Commodore 64 runs AI to generate images — takes 20 minutes per 90 iterations to make 64 pixels

The August 1982 release of the Commodore 64 is historic, as Commodore’s hit personal computer managed to be one of the best-selling PCs of all time — and, it turns out, this historic era of Commodore 64 computing has produced hardware that can do AI image generation — with caveats, of course.

Developer and hobbyist Nick Bild has successfully built and documented a Generative AI tool for Commodore 64 that can be used to create 8×8 sprites that are then displayed at 64×64 resolution. These are intended to help inspire game design concepts, but certainly aren’t up to the level of generating entire sprite sheets off one prompt. There are much higher-end implementations of AI in existing games, as well.

In any case, it’s fascinating that any kind of generative AI model can be run on hardware this old. It still takes twenty minutes to run 90 iterations for a final image, but that’s not bad at all considering the age of the hardware. This also recalls a story from mid-April where the Commodore 64 managed to outperform a modern IBM QPU (Quantum Processing Unit) in a quantum utility experiment.

No reliance on something like OpenAI is needed, though the “probabilistic PCA algorithm” running on the Commodore 64 used for this project was actually trained on a modern computer. So while the model runs on Commodore 64 as advertised, a modern PC was still needed to get this up and running to begin with.

It seems that while the entry-level for “real” AI PCs is hotly up for debate by manufacturers, the ever-reliable Commodore 64 reminds us that the true entry-level starts wherever you, the end user, want it to. With skill, determination, and patience almost anything is possible, though of course, practicality is another question entirely. Even other Commodore 64 mods, like the Raspberry Pi C64 expansion cartridge playing Doom, may be more practical for end users than 8×8 pixel AI sprite generation running on 40-year-old PC hardware.