This AI Is Writing Horror Stories – And It's Surprisingly Good


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer


Early days, but promising stuff. Joe Techapanupreeda/Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence (AI) is generally either very good at its task or extremely bad – intentionally or unintentionally. In one corner, you have AlphaGo Zero, a digital creature that learned 3,000 years of human knowledge to become a game-playing world champion in just three days. In the other, you have malfunctioning “inspirational” robots that spew terror and hatred instead.

Now another, going by the name of Shelley, has entered the ring. Named after the renowned horror novelist, this AI was designed by a team at MIT, who describe their creation as part of a “nightmare machine”. It’s designed not only to invent its own short horror stories, but it allows users to tweet story segments back at it, which it then adds to itself. Some of the best AI-human collaborations are featured on the AI's website.


At the moment, it’s tweeting out two- or three-tweet-long horror tales once every hour, and we have to say, it’s actually not too bad. We were a little wary at first when we found out that it’s learning how to compose scary stories from a subreddit forum. After all, the last time an AI learned how to communicate using social media, it became a raging racist and partial to a bit of genocide in less than 24 hours.


In this case, the forum was /r/nosleep/, wherein users share their own versions of haunted houses with others. As a result, Shelley is tweeting out stuff like this:

“I had to visit him on the day of his death at the beginning of this year. I was excited to have some fun and went home. The next day I looked through my cards and finally found the note. It was a note that said that is said ‘see you soon.’ #yourturn”

Despite the grammatical issues, it’s not a dreadful start for an AI that’s only just begun to learn how to write. It’s definitely sinister, and you can kind of see what it was trying to do here.


Judging by the other tweets on its timeline, it seems to write about death and suicide a lot, along with the slitting of many throats and the removal of several arms. At one point, it talks about exorcizing teeth, and claims that the protagonist “smells like a mouse from a storm.”


Granted, it’s no Mary Shelley, but the fact that an AI that learns by reading what people have written online has not (yet) turned out to be a bigot cannot be emphasized enough. It's certainly a lot better than the AI that tried to write an entire sci-fi screenplay, that's for sure.

[H/T: New Scientist]


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