Science & Technology

Listen to "The Princess and the Fox," an Oddball Fairy Tale Written by an AI

You've probably heard of most fairy tales. "Cinderella," "The Gingerbread Man," "The Pied Piper" — the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Aesop, and the Brothers Grimm are all pretty well ensconced in our collective consciousness. But what about "The Princess and the Fox?" We're guessing you haven't heard of that particular Brothers Grimm tale. After all, it was only written in 2018.

A Bot's Bedtime Story

So what is this story, and how can it be a new piece from a pair of long-dead storytellers? Well, because it wasn't technically written by them. Or anyone at all, actually. See, "The Princess and the Fox" was artificially generated by a predictive text program created by the company Botnik called Voicebox, then refined by a team of human writers. The Grimm Brothers' contribution was their entire body of work, which engineers fed to the program ahead of time.

You won't be able to listen to the whole story without subscribing to Calm, an app that helps users manage their anxiety, learn to meditate, and get to sleep reliably and restfully. It was in service of that last mission that they commissioned this surreal, digital bedtime story. But you can still enjoy the story's strangely heartwarming and heartwarmingly strange "Once upon a time" beginning for free.

Once upon a time, there was a golden horse with a golden saddle and a beautiful purple flower in its hair. The horse would carry the flower to the village where the princess danced for joy at the thought of looking so beautiful and good.

"It's magnificent!" she said to her father, the king of bread and cheese. "Will you give it something to eat and drink if I finally marry the prince?"

You see, the king had long since urged his daughter to marry the only eligible prince in the land. The problem was she did not love him, and so she had continued to refuse his proposal.

Delighted, the king replied: "Come with me into the cellar of the castle, where I've got a piece of cake and juice for the strange thing that is your horse."

Mr. Botnik's Opus

The robot behind this tale of beautiful horses and cheese-platter-based political system is none other than Botnik, the artificial litterateur that also made headlines for its unconventional takes on Harry Potter and Star Trek: The Next Generation. But in the robot's versions, Death Eaters wear T-shirts reading "Hermione has forgotten how to dance," and Captain Picard is disturbingly concerned with what toys he's getting for his first birthday in space. Since Calm was trying to make a gently surreal, but still soothing bedtime story, it needed a human hand to smooth out the edges.

If you want to give the text predictor a try, you aren't limited to fairy tales, starships, and magic wands. Botnik is loaded with all types of different voices, including Radiohead lyrics, dialogue from "Seinfeld" episodes, and various Jeff Bezos quotes. If you're using only the robot to write, what you'll end up with is likely to be more head-scratching than mind-blowing, but if you're looking for inspiration, it could be a great way to kickstart your imagination.

5 Fairy Tales That Were Way Darker Than You Realized as a Kid

Key Facts In This Video

  1. In the original “Cinderella,” the step-sisters also saw off parts of their feet to attempt to fit into the glass slipper. 00:45

  2. In the original “Snow White,” the step-mother is forced to put on hot-iron shoes at Snow White's wedding and dance until she dies. 01:18

  3. In the original “Rapunzel,” the prince is forced to jump from the tower and gets his eyes gauged out by thorns upon landing. 02:27

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 4, 2018

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