Our view: Be sure to have a frightfully fun Halloween

October 30th, 2017 6:55 pm

There is a soulless mind out there dedicating every moment of every day to scaring you. It does not sleep, it does not need food, and it lurks just out of your sight at home and at work, eagerly following you almost everywhere you go.

It is Shelley, and yes, it was deliberately named after the legendary author who penned “Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus.” The name is apropos; Shelley is unnatural. It is a “deep learning” Artificial Intelligence created by the (mad?) science geeks at MIT.

You access Shelley on twitter @shelley_ai, which means if you have a computer, smart phone or other internet-connected device, you can see it. The creators bill it as”the world’s first collaborative AI horror writer!” Translation: It lets humans help write its macabre missives.

According to Phys.org, Shelley was “trained on over 140,000 horror stories on Reddit’s infamous r/nosleep subreddit.” About every hour, @shelley_ai tweets the beginning of a new story with the hashtag #yourturn.

That’s the welcome sign for someone to reply with the next part of the evolving saga. Shelley then picks up the plot and expands it, and the rest is, well, a whole story, in theory.

Shelley learns from the input of human collaborators. In the Phys.org article, lead researcher Pinar Yanardhag explains that “the more collaboration Shelley gets from people, the more and scarier stories she will write. “

You don’t have to wend your way through Shelley’s twitter feed to pull stories together. They are posted in entirety.

They are not the most fluid prose, they don’t always demonstrate a particularly clear sense of continuity. One wonders if they would get any public interest at all if not for the AI authorship. But they are, well, a bit creepy, both in the stories and in the fact that a machine is working with people to write them.

Too much tech for you? Don’t fret, the point here isn’t the gizmo minutiae. It’s a reminder that today is Halloween, and that the time-honored tradition of thrilling with fright is alive and well and morphing into the digital domain.

Yes, you can still have that good old-fashioned fun of taking your costumed kids door to door in the neighborhood you know. But it’s important to remember this is definitely not your parents’ Halloween.

So, yeah, the usual safety tips apply — visible clothing, flashlights with fresh batteries, not wearing masks while walking near traffic — and you can get them at any number of websites with ease, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, aap.org.

But remember that these days danger lurks in other places, including web sites, email scams and digital stalkers, all with plenty of people willing to prey on young children.

And there are sites that may be innocuous at first blush, but can lead to stuff you don’t want kids to see.

Take Shelley.ai. It is learning from adult stories and adult input, and researchers exert limited control. You will find bloody babies and pregnant men.

Happy Halloween, but be safe and be aware.

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