A nightmare on Ames Street

“People are afraid of artificial intelligence, from autonomous cars making unethical decisions in accidents, to robots taking our jobs and causing mass unemployment, to runaway superintelligent machines obliterating humanity. Engineering pioneer and inventor Elon Musk famously said that as we develop AI, we are ‘summoning the demon.’

Halloween is a time when people celebrate the things that terrify them. So it seems like a perfect occasion for an MIT project that explores society’s fear of AI. And what better way to do this than have an actual AI literally scare us in an immediate, visceral sense? Postdoc Pinar Yanardhag, visiting scientist Manuel Cebrian, and I used a recently published, open-source deep neural network algorithm to learn features of a haunted house and apply these features to a picture of the Media Lab.

We also launched the Nightmare Machine website, where people can vote on which AI-generated horror images they find scary; these were generated using the same algorithm, combined with another recent algorithm for generating faces. So far, we’ve collected over 300,000 individual votes, and the results are clear: the AI demon is here, and it can terrify us. Happy Halloween!”

—Iyad Rahwan, AT&T Career Development Professor and an associate professor of media arts and sciences in the MIT Media Lab