As if AI that can do what we do wasn’t horrifying enough, scientists have now also come up with AI that can write horror stories.
What could I do? I was a monster. I was seeing things. I was the victim. The lives of my thirst. But I was never actually dead.
Are these the opening lines of a new Stephen King novel? Close (well, not really), but no. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have trained Shelley, a new deep-learning artificial intelligence program, to write gruesome, hair-raising horror stories. There have been a number of terrifying tales about machines and artificial intelligence that have overtaken human abilities, or are being used by supernatural entities to strike fear into the hearts of their victims. However, this is the first time that a machine itself was the one writing the tales.
Shelley isn’t completely independent, however. She learned from human writers, and humans can also aid her in writing her stories.
Can Shelley live up to her famous namesake, Mary Shelley, the woman who wrote Frankenstein? Training Shelley the AI entailed feeding her with stories from r/nosleep, a Reddit board wherein users can write and post original scary stories. Shelley can begin working with just the “seed” of an idea, or a piece of inspiration. Just a short piece of text can be enough for Shelley to start producing stories of her own, like the following snippet:
I was too scared to move at all. I couldn't breathe for what felt like years. She was right outside my door. Staring into the empty room. Staring. I could see her mouth still open, but I could still see the teeth. I could see the blood and dead flesh of her face and her body was peeling off. I could see the blood dripping down from her mouth. She was trying to breathe in short bursts.
Shelley draws inspiration from common themes in the horror genre. There are ghosts and ghouls, men and monsters, nightmares in both sleeping and waking hours. Human writers with a penchant for horror can also give Shelley a hand in spinning these tales. The AI posts stories on her Twitter account every hour, and anyone with a Twitter account can reply with their own additions to the narrative and conclude their contribution with the hashtag #yourturn.
Of course, we can’t expect Stephen King levels of horror genre mastery just yet. Shelley still has a new kinks that needs ironing out. While the AI can be effective in inducing chills, it also slips up now and then in telling its stories. Some parts of the narrative don’t make sense, like the following snippet:
You…your wife is your father,” the voice said perfectly.
These kinds of slip-ups may be expected in AI that attempts to create literature. Earlier this year, another AI attempted to write the long-awaited upcoming book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, the book series on which the hit TV show Game of Thrones was based on. This AI had written a narrative that took a few confusing twists as well, though not the kind of twists that the books’ actual writer, George RR Martin, was known for.
However, there may be hope yet for Shelley. The AI was launched very recently, so more improvements may come in the future.
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