Frightening, But Not Scary

Nov. 13, 2018

Every year just after Halloween, I feel the need to explain to people that I don’t like or enjoy anything that scares me. That includes roller coasters, haunted houses, clowns, zombies, zombie clowns, and scary movies. Scary books are included in that list.

I especially dislike scary movies. They give me nightmares. Scary movies with stories gleaned from scary books frighten me even more so.

About a year ago, I told you about Botnik Studios. Last December its team put together a Harry Potter story concocted by artificial intelligence (AI):

An artificial intelligence has written a new chapter all on its own after all seven of the Harry Potter novels were downloaded into a predictive text keyboard. The keyboard then outputs suggested word combinations based on the information that had been downloaded.

The website, says the chapter is titled, “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.” It doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

Here are some passages:

“To Harry, Ron was a loud, slow, and soft bird. Harry did not like to think about birds.”

“The tall Death Eater was wearing a shirt that said ‘Hermione Has Forgotten How to Dance,’ so Hermione dipped his face in mud.”

“The castle grounds snarled with a wave of magically magnified winds. The sky outside was a great black ceiling, which was full of blood.”

“Leathery sheets of rain lashed at Harry’s ghost as he walked across the grounds towards the castle. Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.”

“Harry tore his eyes from his head and threw them into the forest.”

-GX Blog December 20, 2017

As construction software companies are trying to perfect AI for heavy equipment and job site applications, according to, this year Botnik is trying its hand at a scary old west story.

This is an interactive adventure story titled, Give Yourself Goofbumps: Welcome to Sand Hands that you can play at

IFLScience explains:

They’ve turned their hand to spooky stories in the vein of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series—and the result is (predictably) absurd.

“We took ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps’ as our inspiration and threw those books into our predictive text writing software,” explained Botnik’s Nicky Martin.

“Our goal was to create a playable ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style book where every word comes from ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps.’”

The robo-author asks:

“Do you dare beat feet through scary woods? If you do, you might get a magic sword. Or even a soda can from a ghostly horse. But how will you hold either when your hands are made of sand?”

Er, right. Anyway, it continues:

“Maybe you should stay home where the toys are. But be careful. You could wake up one day and find yourself married … with vampires!”

It’s up to you but regardless of your decision, you can meet a fabulous (and very strange) cast of characters, from your mom who “scoops some cheese sauce into her purse” to your cousin Zoe whose mom was stabbed by “that man” and your sarcastic friend Brad with the foot fetish who you met at a lip-smacking contest. Depending on your journey, you might meet the King of Rodents, Dr Backpack the Time Scientist, a talking dog with a microphone, or your evil vampire children.

There are also some gems of sentences including:

“Today has been a saltshaker of horrors—and you’re the salt!”

“You realize your hands are now made out of sand. Yes, you’ve got sand hands and there’s no going back.”


“You look through the listings, searching for something to take your mind off those undead bullies. There’s nothing good on. You’ll have to choose between watching reruns of Toothpaste Ninja or an infomercial for forehead cream.”

Let’s just say, it looks like Botnik could do with a little more practice…

“We started Botnik to explore whether or not artificial intelligence could be funny,” Martin explained.

“Clearly, we still have a long way to go, but we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far. Cheese sauce—in a purse? That’s good stuff.”

That’s pretty frightening in the way that I don’t think there are any literary prizes to be won here. I’m pretty sure artificial intelligence things aren’t as scary on the job site.