There’s always something to watch on Twitch, whether that’s your fave musicians talking about video games or your fave streamers discussing politics. Now your choices include an absurd, often nonsensical Seinfeld-like show that runs 24/7/365 and is generated on the fly using artificial intelligence. Welcome to the future of TV, maybe?
So-called AI has been a fraught topic lately. The technology, which typically uses machine learning to generate text, images, and even video from preexisting sets of data, is suddenly everywhere: art, article and essay writing, even video games. You almost can’t escape the discourse these days, especially if you spend any time online or reading the news. It feels like we’re reaching that point in ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi films when AI takes over the world. Perhaps that feels especially true in the wake of the suddenly hot Twitch channel, watchmeforever, which uses AI to create every element of a never-ending TV show.
Watchmeforever, started by the media lab Mismatch Media, runs the 24/7 Seinfeld-like, sitcom-like Nothing, Forever. Using generative, machine-learning technologies such as DALL-E, OpenAI GPT-3, Stable Diffusion, and others, the resulting video makes for an awkward Xerox of Larry David’s ‘90s sitcom. There’s an Elaine (dubbed “Yvonne Torres”), a George (Fred Kastopolous), a Kramer (Zoltan Kakler), and, of course, a Jerry (Larry Feinberg), all of whom live in what appears to be a New York-esque metropolis.
But while the show bears an obvious resemblance to Seinfeld, it doesn’t retain its charm or comedy. In fact, it’s not just awkward, it’s bizarre and uncanny. It looks like a rejected PS1 voxel game, the characters flop about when they move, the camera angles are strangely placed with some of the weirdest zoom-ins I’ve ever seen, and the writing is pretty flat. Makes sense, considering the entire thing was made using artificial intelligence.
There’s even a stand-up comedy portion, just like in Seinfeld, and laugh tracks that attempt to reinforce the supposed punchlines. At one point during the show, Larry made this joke about animals eating clowns, asking the crowd why such a thing might happen. “Because they taste funny,” Larry quipped. There was a long bit of silence — customary for Nothing, Forever — before the laugh track briefly popped in, only to be cut short by the even more awkward transitional music. And because this is an endless, AI-generated show, none of these jokes are likely to ever appear again.
But maybe that’s why I, and some 3,000 other people at the time of this writing, can’t stop watching Mismatch Media’s Nothing, Forever. It’s weird, sure, but it’s also alluring in its unsettling production. Everything in the show is stiff and artificial. The voice “acting” especially is rough around the edges. Still, Nothing, Forever has this strange ability to capture my attention as I watch discount Jerry and friends stand around the apartment, often talking about nothing between spates of empty silence.
The idea that technology can endlessly generate ‘90s-style sitcoms is undeniably novel. That said, as with other recent intersections of AI and media, this machine-generated content feels like a possibly slippery slope that has the potential to uproot entire careers, creative or otherwise.
In an email exchange with Kotaku, co-creator Skyler Hartle said he and his co-creator Brian Habersberger have been working on the “passion project” part-time for the past four years with a team of between three to seven people. With all of the AI tools at their disposal, including Azure Cognitive Services for voice generation, Hartle thinks the team can “spin up new shows or formats.”
“The idea started out as an art project — a generative show that created ‘nothing,’ forever, that people could tune into,” Hartle said. “As creators, we thought it was a really interesting [and] novel space to explore conceptually, but pretty early on, we started to recognise the potential for creating a platform in addition to the show that would help facilitate the creation of these kinds of generative media. When we started, ChatGPT/GPT-3/Stable Diffusion didn’t exist, but with the advances that have happened very recently, it’s looking more and more likely that these types of shows are going to be one path into the future.”
Taking inspiration from David Lynch’s 2002 short horror anthology Rabbits, Hartle said the team wanted to “create something that would run forever,” seeing ‘90s sitcoms as “the perfect medium to target.” The channel, Hartle noted, is steadily growing, with the chat being “one of the best parts” largely due to the memes folks have been sharing. Hartle hopes that the show and AI tech enable creators while having little to no negative impact on TV creation.
“Our goal with this project and our platform is to enable more creators, not less,” Hartle said. “We want people who have limited resources to be able to realise their creative visions, and we think this kind of technology is going to be a backbone for this.”
Despite enjoying the absurdity that is Nothing, Forever, I remain wary that artificial intelligence technologies could have a negative influence on not just the arts but the world as a whole. If used appropriately and sparingly, AI just might make life a little easier at times. However, because capitalists want to increase production as much as possible while spending as little money as possible, I worry that the writing is on the wall for at least some types of artists and other creatives who currently make a living through their art. Nothing, Forever is definitely neat, but you have to wonder where this sort of thing might eventually lead.
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