This year’s Tuesday-night Halloween means that most of the nation’s serial killers, monsters, and various stabby creatures have to turn in early for a bright and early hump day. But in lieu of being chased around by a low-budget demon, it’s not too late to wrap up your night by dimming the lights and reading some tales from a machine designed to creep you out.
MIT Media Lab researchers have developed Shelley, a social media program primed with 140,000 posts from Reddit’s horror fiction subforum r/nosleep until it was ripe with ideas of wildly variable quality. (For those who have never read r/nosleep, it produces a few gems alongside mountains of parody-inspiring slop—just like the real horror genre.) Shelley generates intros to horror stories based on its library of Reddit posts, posts them to Twitter, and then collaborates with users to continue certain tales when it gets engagement with the hashtag #yourturn.
As you can imagine, Shelley’s Reddit-fed brain is equal parts gross, campy, and weird:
Sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense.
On a few lucky occasions it’s kind of creepy, or comes up with something that could conceivably be the intro to a spooky tale.
But mostly it pulls directly from a big box of well-established tropes.
Then sometimes Shelley just leaves you with a cliffhanger.
One commonality is that virtually all of these stories seem to start off with the protagonist in the dark with something weird staring at them... but that’s pretty much what you get with r/nosleep.
“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,” researcher Iyad Rahwan wrote to Quartz. “We know that AI terrifies us in the abstract sense. But can AI scare us in the immediate, visceral sense?”
Shelley is fun and weird, but we’re probably going to have to wait a few more generations of AI development before she keeps you up all night. Still, check out this archive of her stories on their website. The intro to this one is my personal favorite:
I thought it was my imagination being played on me and that I was just seeing things. After a few minutes of this, I realized that it was a website called “Demonic Christian Chronicle”. What!? The website had the strangest fonts, and was asking for a password to log into it. I tried “666” and… it worked.
Folks, and that website... was Gizmodo dot com.