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Can artificial intelligence learn to scare us?

With Shelley, the world’s first artificial intelligence-human horror story collaboration, MIT researchers aim for goosebumps.
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Shelley is an artificial intelligence horror story writer that collaborates with humans to create tales of terror.
Caption:
Shelley is an artificial intelligence horror story writer that collaborates with humans to create tales of terror.
Credits:
Image: Meghan Murphy
Shelley interacts with humans on Twitter, prompting responses with the hashtag #yourturn.
Caption:
Shelley interacts with humans on Twitter, prompting responses with the hashtag #yourturn.
Shelley was trained on over 140,000 horror stories on reddit’s infamous r/nosleep subreddit.
Caption:
Shelley was trained on over 140,000 horror stories on reddit’s infamous r/nosleep subreddit.

Just in time for Halloween, a research team from the MIT Media Lab’s Scalable Cooperation group has introduced Shelley: the world’s first artificial intelligence-human horror story collaboration.

Shelley, named for English writer Mary Shelley — best known as the author of "Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus" — is a deep-learning powered artificial intelligence (AI) system that was trained on over 140,000 horror stories on Reddit’s infamous r/nosleep subreddit. She lives on Twitter, where every hour, @shelley_ai tweets out the beginning of a new horror story and the hashtag #yourturn to invite a human collaborator. Anyone is welcome to reply to the tweet with the next part of the story, then Shelley will reply again with the next part, and so on. The results are weird, fun, and unpredictable horror stories that represent both creativity and collaboration — traits that explore the limits of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Shelley is a combination of a multi-layer recurrent neural network and an online learning algorithm that learns from crowd’s feedback over time,” explains Pinar Yanardhag, the project’s lead researcher. “The more collaboration Shelley gets from people, the more and scarier stories she will write.”

Shelley starts stories based on the AI’s own learning dataset, but she responds directly to additions to the story from human contributors — which, in turn, adds to her knowledge base. Each completed story is then collected on the Shelley project website.

“Shelley’s creative mind has no boundaries,” the research team says. “She writes stories about a pregnant man who woke up in a hospital, a mouth on the floor with a calm smile, an entire haunted town, a faceless man on the mirror ... anything is possible!”

One final note on Shelley: The AI was trained on a subreddit filled with adult content, and the researchers have limited control over her — so parents beware.

Press Mentions

Fortune- CNN

Valentina Zarya writes for Fortune that MIT researchers have developed an AI system that can generate horror stories. The system, named Shelley, learned its craft by reading a Reddit forum containing stories from amateur horror writers. The bot, Shelley, also tweets a line for a new story every hour, encouraging Twitter users to continue the story.

CBS Boston

MIT Media Lab researchers have created an AI program that can write horror stories in collaboration with humans via Twitter, reports David Wade for CBS Boston. “Over time, we are expecting her to learn more from the crowd, and to create even more scarier stories,” says postdoctoral associate Pinar Yanardag.

Associated Press

Associated Press reporter Matt O’Brien details how Media Lab researchers have developed a new system, dubbed Shelley, that can generate scary stories. O’Brien explains that, “Shelley's artificial neural network is generating its own stories, posting opening lines on Twitter, then taking turns with humans in collaborative storytelling.”

HuffPost

MIT researchers have developed an artificial neural network that can generate horror stories by collaborating with people on Twitter, HuffPost reports. Pinar Yanardag, a postdoc at the Media Lab, explains that the system is, “creating really interesting and weird stories that have never really existed in the horror genre.”

Newsweek

Newsweek reporter Joseph Frankel writes that MIT Media Lab researchers have developed an AI system named Shelley that uses human input to write short horror stories. Frankel explains that Shelley, “tweets out one or two sentences as the start of a new horror story, then calls for users to respond with their own lines.”

New Scientist

New Scientist reporter Timothy Revell writes that researchers from the MIT Media Lab have developed a new AI system that can tell scary stories. Revell explains that the system is “powered by deep learning algorithms that have been trained on stories collected from the subreddit /r/nosleep where people share their own original eerie works.”

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