An Artificial Intelligence Is Producing Short Horror Stories — and They’re Creepy as Hell

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Top Tier Gear USA

ai horror

It should come as no surprise that an artificial intelligence application is writing horror prose. AI bots have spread their wings in recent years, challenging the premise that automated AI technology will be confined to chess, analytics, or number-crunching. Indeed, they have been recording musicwriting movies, and dabbling in the visual arts. This all squares perfectly with author Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that AI — and transhumanist AI augmentations — would facilitate exponential improvements in every imaginable human endeavor, including making better art.

Now, just in time for this year’s Halloween comes news that a deep learning algorithm named Shelley AI (named after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley) is producing short horror stories — and they’re creepy as hell. Shelly AI uses ideas submitted via Twitter and a subreddit devoted to short horror and spins prose off these snippets of text. According to researchers at MIT, who developed the algorithm, Shelley AI’s writing “takes a bit of inspiration in the form of a random seed, or a short snippet of text, and starts creating stories emanating from her creepy creative mind.”

One passage reads:

I slowly moved my head away from the shower curtain and saw the reflection of the face of a tall man who looked like he was looking in the mirror in my room. I still couldn’t see his face, but I could just see his reflection in the mirror. He moved toward me in the mirror, and he was taller than I had ever seen. His skin was pale, and he had a long beard.

Shelley continued the story using a Twitter submission.

“Please, don’t be scared, I’m just looking for her,” he said pointing to the mirror. I nodded, frozen, because something touched me. I remember he looked down at me and screamed in agony. He didn’t say anything, but he looked over at me with that unnatural expression.

As the Shelley AI website describes, the operating principle seems to be human-AI collaboration. Ahead of last year’s Halloween, the team behind the algorithm developed Nightmare Machine, AI-generated horror imagery designed to both analyze and elicit extreme emotions in human observers. This year they asked an almost hauntingly prophetic question related to artificial intelligence: “Can machines learn to scare us?

You tell us. Other fragments of Shelly AI’s writing include the following:

I could feel something watching me and I could see this dark shadow standing there with a torrent of hatred in its face. I was beyond scared so I didn’t take my eyes off this thing and turned back towards the mirror to see what was behind me!

Another excerpt of a story, which you can find more of here, continues below:

She fell to the floor from her cries and muttered a soft “Come to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”. He stood rooted with fear, she slowly crawled spider-like towards him, and started shrieking ‘no escape nowhere to hide’.

There seems to be an almost perfectly calibrated creepiness endowed to these stories. Years ago, shortly before any deep learning algorithms were producing actual art, I wrote a fake review of the first artificial intelligence-directed horror movie. In the review, I positioned the movie as a blockbuster flop, and the director, Art 5, as a studio hack that was using every cliche in the book to manufacture a tired zombie apocalypse film. Maybe I wasn’t giving enough credit to how deeply embedded into our subconscious AI would become, nor how knowledgeable machines would be of our fears.

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  • RandyJ/ProudSurvivor

    We probably needn’t worry until it starts writing stories about mankind being eradicated by killer robots under the control of AI programs.

    • ReverendDraco✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵃᶜᶜᵒᵘᶰᵗ

      At which point it would be sued for plagiarizing “Terminator.”


      • I can’t find “=P” on any emoticon list.
        A literal search produces no hits.
        What does it mean to you?

      • RandyJ/ProudSurvivor

        How could it ever live with itself?

    • It will produce stories consistent with what its coding tells it to. If the program is written to produce stories “about mankind being eradicated by killer robots under the control of AI programs,” it will produce stories “about mankind being eradicated by killer robots under the control of AI programs.”

      • RandyJ/ProudSurvivor

        Ya-there’s this thing called sarcasm…

        • It coexists well with these things called emoticons.

          • RandyJ/ProudSurvivor

            Duly noted. : )

  • TrevorD

    If AI is coming up with horror stories then it surely reflects the team mentality behind the algorithm. Then this is the future and the best Humanity can come up with, can`t wait…….

    • Algorithms cannot have team mentalities, they being non-sentient programs.

      • Rift

        Or the stories are written by the programmers so they can get more funding. Oh and also it helps support the narrative that’s being pushed lately, that robots are people too.

        • Since I have a lot of training in medical areas, I won’t buy that robots are people until I can get a complete set of vitals, including blood labs.

          • Rift

            Sadly I think a lot of people will buy it. A.I/robot civil rights is going to be a topic hoisted on us sooner or later.

          • “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” P.T. Barnum

          • Rift

            Wise words, but considering the way people our being swayed into this mindset I like this one, “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”Edward L. Bernays

          • Which sounds like the short form of Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance”:
            I’ve been waiting for something to happen
            For a week or a month or a year
            With the blood in the ink of the headlines
            And the sound of the crowd in my ear
            You might ask what it takes to remember
            When you know that you’ve seen it before
            Where a government lies to a people
            And a country is drifting to war

            And there’s a shadow on the faces
            Of the men who send the guns
            To the wars that are fought in places
            Where their business interest runs

            On the radio talk shows and the T.V.
            You hear one thing again and again
            How the U.S.A. stands for freedom
            And we come to the aid of a friend
            But who are the ones that we call our friends
            These governments killing their own?
            Or the people who finally can’t take any more
            And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
            There are lives in the balance
            There are people under fire
            There are children at the cannons
            And there is blood on the wire

            There’s a shadow on the faces
            Of the men who fan the flames
            Of the wars that are fought in places
            Where we can’t even say the names

            They sell us the President the same way
            They sell us our clothes and our cars
            They sell us every thing from youth to religion
            The same time they sell us our wars
            I want to know who the men in the shadows are
            I want to hear somebody asking them why
            They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
            But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
            And there are lives in the balance
            There are people under fire
            There are children at the cannons
            And there is blood on the wire

          • Rift

            Good poem, very true. The bernays quote BTW is from the early 30. This fellow famously created the U.S consumer based economy, advertising techniques and propaganda. So largely the man responsible for the mess we are in as a country.

          • Jackson Browne is a musician, not a poet.
            Anyone who is familiar with the author of Propaganda would know that book is a guide to effectively deceptive marketing. There’s another poorly attributed P.T Barnum quote that qualifies the situation clearly, ” “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Those who don’t act like suckers are unlikely to be regarded as easy marks for those that they generally grovel before and deify. If you believe that someone who was well-known in the 1930’s, but is largely unknown now, is responsible for the current situation in any country, you might be someone who Barnum was being prophetic about.

          • Rift

            Sort of missing his point then. I think you underestimate how malleable most folks are. To say Bernays simply pioneered deceptive marketing is to grosly understate his work. He essentially invented televised brain washing . I’d hope you have noticed it’s effect on society. So yes I’d say Americans at least are profoundly effected by men who are long dead, even and especially if they have never heard there names.

          • It is difficult to understand a book you haven’t read.

          • Rift

            You understand your arguing with someone who basically agrees with you right?

          • I’m not arguing, I conversing. Argument requires a disagreement, which you have already noted does not exist. At the most excitable, call it debate.

  • Gil G

    AI is killing the notion of free will and creativity.

  • elbustaroyjetspeekerson

    Gosh, not only are we drowning in garbage meedeeyah, it’s now ARTIFICIAL GARBAGE to boot. Enjoy, sheepees.

  • tonye

    Edgar Allan Poe it sure ain’t.

    Better stick to playing chess and calculating waypoint trajectories.

    • The substances that Poe used for creative effect would have zero effect on a computer.