MIT researchers have given life to a new fiction-writing bot that can create write horror-story material. The bot, named Shelley—in honor of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein—doesn’t create entire stories from scratch but does post opening lines on Twitter and takes turns writing collaborative stories with amateur human writers on an online forum.
“The doll came at me with a syringe,” the bot tweeted on Friday. “Its blood shot out of its mouth, and it began to uncover itself. It was then that it began to dance.”
Shelley’s creators made it read through 140,000 stories on Reddit’s “r/nosleep” forum and store enough data of the words, sentence structures, and concepts to weave its own story content. Shelley can “learn” to mimic human writers but, since she is a machine, the constraints of human logic don’t apply to her material—which is not a bad thing, her creators suggest.
“She’s creating really interesting and weird stories that have never really existed in the horror genre,” said Pinar Yanardag, a postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Media Lab. One tale, for example, involved a pregnant man who woke up in a hospital.
Yanardag and his research partner Manuel Cebrian are themselves aspiring horror writers. They said that Shelley can aid human writers by churning out creative new story directions or ideas when they get stuck.
“This kind of technology helps you write the next paragraph so you don’t get so-called writer’s block,” Cebrian said.
Shelley is an example of an artificial neural network, meaning an artificial-intelligence system that consists of artificial “neurons” that not only acquire new information but learn from it and adapt its operations based on it. These systems roughly mimic the human brain’s knowledge acquisition and can process data in ways that a conventional computer cannot.