MIT researchers create an AI bot that writes horror stories

Deep inside an MIT laboratory, an artificially intelligent bot is composing ghastly tales of nightmarish creatures and strange shrieks in the night. 

MIT researchers named their bot Shelley (after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley). They endowed her with an artificial mind, called a neural network, an advanced form of machine learning in which a computer learns a task by relying on training examples. In Shelley’s case, MIT researchers fed her silicon brain 140,000 horror stories published by writers on Reddit’s “No Sleep” forum.

Endowed with this massive story bank of fright, Shelley is a program that churns out its own unique tales of the undead and soon-to-be dead.

“She’s creating really interesting and weird stories that have never really existed in the horror genre,” Pinar Yanardag, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, told the Associated Press. Pinar gives the example of a man who awakes in a hospital bed to find he’s pregnant. 

Another of Shelley’s stories begins: I had no choice but to get out. I turned around and saw my mom. She had a menacing look on her face, holding a small box with my dad’s stuffed animals in it.

But Shelley doesn’t just concoct fictional dread by herself. Her MIT creators encourage Twitter users to interact with the hell-bot. Each hour, Shelley tweets the beginning lines to a story. Real humans can reply with the story’s next lines, which Shelley will read and add to.

Shelley’s MIT creators hope her autonomously-generated text will provide answers to an important question about AI: “Can machines learn to scare us?” 

As the machine receives more feedback from interactions from humans, it learns how to fashion authentic terror — or at least, that’s how it’s designed. This isn’t too different from AI neural networks learning to render realistic faces or dominate popular board games

Shelley may not be truly terrifying just yet. But beware: In the deep witching hours when you’re asleep, she’s wide awake — and training to become even more horrifying.