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Review: 100% AI-generated podcast Synthetic Stories


Earlier today we reported that Leeds podcast producer This Is Distorted has launched Synthetic Stories, its first podcast generated entirely by AI.

Everything about the podcast – the script, sound design, artwork, narration and all points in between – was created by AI. The company even got the AI to write its own press release announcing its creation, which in fairness your average human wouldn’t be able to until a good few years after birth.

Plus, so far at least, unlike humans the AI doesn’t seem to have become entangled in the philosophical questions about the meaning of its own existence (or indeed the mindbending reality that it is essentially self-created) that tend to afflict humans once a certain level of self-awareness is achieved.

So in the interests of, well, in the interests of finding out what an earth a podcast created entirely by AI sounds like, Prolific North sat down to take in the first, and so far only, although we’re promised a full series, episode of Synthetic Stories – the nine-minute horror short story Amelia.

We’re greeted initially by a friendly sounding female voice who reminds us that what we’re listening to is entirely created by software and servers, including her, and “nothing was created by humans.”

A chilling John Carpenteresque score that wouldn’t be out of place in any number of B-movie horrors jingles away in the background, and we’re into the main story.

I don’t think I’m being too critical if I note that we’re not really dealing with a multi-layered tale here. In a nutshell, and avoiding spoilers as much as possible, Amelia is a big fan of horror podcasts, but she starts to hear and see things when she’s not listening to them too.

She begins to suspect her own phone’s AI is haunting her when it self-installs a super-creepy new horror app that seems based on her own deepest fears. Build to a cliffhanger crescendo, and sign off until next week.

There’s certainly no Shakespearian depths of characterisation – the only thing I could tell you about Amelia after listening is that she likes horror podcasts.

The main, male narrator somewhat fails to live up to the friendly conversational tones of the female who first greeted us too, and actually sounds slightly bored during sections of the story – not to the same level of horrendous botness as your average call centre, but he definitely lacks a certain emotional depth.

The story itself is a far from complex affair – I’m no child development expert but in terms of the degree of imagination and narrative structure I’d probably put it at somewhere around the level of advancement of a 10 or 11-year-old child.

On a creative and emotional level then, the human writers probably have at least a few weeks left in them yet.

Where the experiment really succeeds is in the soundtrack. Yes, the ambient score is highly derivative of every horror film since Halloween, but so is every horror film since Halloween, and humans made them so we can hardly be too critical.

There are a couple of moments when the sound effects were genuinely creepy too, and they’ve been given a decent 3D feel, even on the far-from-cinema-quality speaker of a MacBook Air. I think we could reasonably say that when it comes to the technical aspects of the production the AI has it pretty well nailed.

Perhaps most alarming, however, is the fact that the AI, on being asked to come up with the very first in a series of short stories that promises to traverse genres from sci-fi thriller to heartwarming drama, dives straight in with a horror about an AI becoming sentient and psychologically torturing its supposed ‘owner’ through the power of phone apps and AI.

I don’t think I’m coming over too Sarah Connor when I say we can see where this is going, and would wholeheartedly urge This Is Distorted to stop now, and put Episode 2 on hold before we all wake up to find ourselves held captive in a dystopian future where we’re farmed as a carbon-based power source for our AI overlords.

*Synthetic Stories is available now on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

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