The internet is a bastion of horror. There’s a simulator that knows how you’ll die, websites that track reported hauntings near you, and thanks to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, there’s the “Nightmare Machine,” a deep-learning algorithm that generates horrifying imagery guaranteed to make you shriek.
Pinar Yanardag, a postdoctoral student at the Media Lab, told the Boston Globe that the machine was initially supplied the faces of 100,00 celebrities, which it then used to “generate faces of its own." As Yanardag explains, the MIT team "‘zombified’ these faces by teaching another algorithm how a zombie face looks like.” It’s this cross-pollination of celebrities and revolting zombie faces that bred many of the repugnant images you’ll see.
And the process works at an astonishing level of accuracy, as the Nightmare Machine conjures grim stuff that would terrify anyone sitting alone in the dark. The website lets you vote on which of its “haunted faces” or “haunted places” are actually up to snuff, in an effort to fine tune its algorithm. According to Yanardag, some of the website’s nearly 1 million visitors aren’t as terrified by the images as you’d imagine. He told FiveThirtyEight: “Initial tallies reveal that humans quickly converge and find some of the images very scary and others not so much. In terms of scariest faces, it seems like people find blood-covered faces more scary.”