Just in time for Halloween, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers brought to life a new horror fiction writing bot programmed to generate its own bone-chilling stories. The post-doctoral associate behind the bot is Turkish Pınar Yanardağ, a graduate of Boğaziçi University and Purdue University. She now works at the MIT media lab, alongside teammates Manual Cebrian and Lyad Rahwan. Yanardağ and her team have been exploring the capacity of machines getting the hang of scaring humans, which already sounds like we're getting into some real-life SkyNet-type of situation.
The MIT researchers named their new fiction-writing bot, Shelley, after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. To keep the bot busy, the team gave it a crash course in the horror genre, making it read over 140,000 stories published by amateur writers on a popular online forum. Shelley is now cranking out its own stories and collaborating with humans via Twitter, trading lines or paragraphs back and forth. Shelley first began sharing its stories on October 23rd, bringing artificial intelligence and humans together for a haunting theme, just in time for Halloween.
While a lot of the stories end up turning out pretty weird, mostly due to the human element, Shelley starts off remarkably well. One passage written entirely by Shelley 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."
As you can see, the results are pretty good for a bot that has only been reading horror stories for a short time. As time goes along, the A.I. is supposed to get better.
Shelley reportedly does best when given a start with some inspiration. Pınar Yanardağ writes that Shelley, "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." Horror-loving social media users help Shelley churn out nightmarish stories by submitting their own sentences to compositions in the making, letting the A.I. take its inspiration from humans. Shelley does the heavy lifting and ends up formatting the collaboration into a story.
While Shelley is capable of generating artistic works, it was never started by itself. Shelley needs input from the human source first, which is reading through hundreds of horror stories written by humans to learn. The A.I. is learning from humans how to formulate sentences, syntax, and in this case, using drama, rising action, and climax, to complete stories intended to freight readers. If you want to read more of what Shelley has written so far, or even collaborate with the bot, head over to the official Shelley Twitter page.