HORRIFYING TWITTER

MIT researchers trained AI to write horror stories based on 140,000 Reddit posts

Sometimes the scariest place to be is your own mind. Or Reddit at night.

Shelley is an AI program that generates the beginnings of horror stories, and it’s trained by original horror fiction posted to Reddit. Designed by researchers from MIT Media Lab, Shelley launched on Twitter on Oct. 21.

The team behind Shelley is hoping to learn more about how machines can evoke emotional responses in humans. “The rapid progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has people worried about everything from mass unemployment to the annihilation of the human race at the hand of evil robots,” writes researcher Iyad Rahwan by email. “We know that AI terrifies us in the abstract sense. But can AI scare us in the immediate, visceral sense?”

Shelley, named after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, is interactive. After the program tweets a few opening lines, it asks people on Twitter to continue the story, and if the story is popular, it responds to those responses.

Using information from 140,000 stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep, Shelley produces story beginnings that range in creepiness, and in quality. There’s some classic “scary stuff,” like a narrator who thinks she’s alone and then sees eyes in the dark, but also premises one can only imagine are Reddit-user-inspired, like family porn.

Others are silly:

There are some unimaginative ones:

I was standing right across the street, when a ghost stood behind me. I was so scared I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t able to move my eyes, I was screaming. I was so scared.

And:

She fell to the floor from her cries and muttered a soft ‘Come to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’.

And some of Shelley’s stories contain dread of a more existential sort:

I started breathing heavily, and waited for whatever it was to happen. I never saw it, because it drove me insane, I couldn’t move. All I could do was stand there, wide eyed, and stared at the wall, screaming at the top of my lungs, but the words were loud and I couldn’t take it anymore.


Read next: “I want to talk to you”: See the creepy, romantic poetry that came out of a Google AI system

home our picks popular latest obsessions search