AI Revealed What Hell Might Look Like And It's Scary

Lots of things are "hell," according to human reckoning. A long work meeting replete with spreadsheets and bored, monotonous voices? That's hell. Three-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic because of lane closure on your commute home? That's definitely hell. A politically charged Thanksgiving meal discussion with relatives you barely know and haven't seen in years? Yeah, that's at least hell-adjacent. All such hellish scenarios, however, have one thing in common: other people. The more, the worse.

So what do you get if you take such hellish visions, glom onto them some vaguely Judeo-Christian notions of a literal hell, and ask an AI to sift through, aggregate, and interpret from that data its own version of hell? Full disclosure: The result definitely features some characteristically wonky human hands ala AI artistry. And faces and bulging eyes. And lots of blubbing, shifting, blurry, nude bodies scrambling over each other in a vie to escape a pit of purest ... hell.

TikTok user @realscarytok posted the AI-made video in question, which depending on your perspective and sensitivities is either truly disturbing or shoulder-shruggingly whatever. The comments underneath the video range from mockingly glib, blandly straight-faced, to sometimes religiously oriented. But, the video still seems to have caught people's attention and provoked the kind of responses that indicate that something about it does indeed stand out. 

A hellish AI interpretation

For those unfamiliar with how AI actually works, let's do an easy refresher. Whether pictures, videos, or words, AI — including large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT — examines large quantities of information to make predictions about what people want when they make a prompt. Then, it reassembles that existing data into its own version of what it's being asked to reproduce. Basically, AI can only reassemble what it's analyzed, but it can cycle through a lot of information very, very quickly.

So what prompt or request did TikTok user @realscarytok make? We've got no clue. Is it even a video based on a prompt from that particular user? We've also got no clue. But presumably, the video — which is actually just an 18-second clip — might have been asked to focus on clawing, crowded hands and forearms with lots of veins, dusty-looking skin, a sepia color tone, and something that looks like dirt funneling human bodies down a tube. And there's that yelling dude with a shifting face. In other words: a typical morning commute on a train or bus.

One person in the video's comments section made a similar gag and simply wrote, "Crowded as hell." Another person took the opportunity to make is assumedly a religious comment and assert, "Believe me hell is worse than this." And yet somebody else took the glummest of approaches and said, "Hell is what we are currently living in."  

Multiple hells new and old

Even though the current AI vision of hell has gotten some attention, it's far from the only version that's made its way around online. Various AI-made images on Tiktok show conventional-looking demons with horns fighting against a fiery background, a screaming head with some other screaming heads attached to it, volcanic landscapes, darkness, and so forth. Another image on Nightcafe from a couple of years ago shows something like a river of blood stretching into the distance and occupied by hunched-over figures. Another TikTok from @metacowboy shows a bunch of bloody skulls huddled together and groaning in agony, we suppose, because what else would bloody skulls in hell do?

And lest you think that we're the first generation to transcribe hell to a visual medium, think again — no matter that we're the first to ask AI to do it for us. Folks have been painting hell in various forms and fashions for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Oftentimes there's a lot of nudity, torture, skeletons, maybe some demons chowing down on people, freakish creatures, deformed beings, winged devils, fiery red colors, and ... Well, you get the idea. Seems preoccupations haven't changed much, same as the human need to visualize what it means to be in hell. Also, most visions of hell can agree on one thing: It's way, way too packed with humans.

[Featured image by Fletcher Fund, 1933 via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC0 1.0 DEED]