Update 02/01/2023: Added comment from one of the co-creators. I also note that in the last few minutes the AI has recreated an actual skit from Seinfeld (opens in new tab).
AI may well be about to take our jobs and incinerate us to save the planet, but there's also something purely fun about watching these various technologies emerge blinking into the light. There are highly questionable use cases, sure, and the arguments over things like AI lawyers (opens in new tab) or AI art entering competitions (opens in new tab) are going to run and run, but for every huge project with potentially world-altering consequences there are a hundred tinkerers out there doing weird and wonderful things with this nascent tech.
I bring you Nothing, Forever. This is the name of an always-on Twitch stream, embedded below, which broadcasts AI-generated episodes of Seinfeld. The creators studiously avoid using the 'S' word at any point but the link is made crystal clear by the title, logo, and everything in the show itself. Seinfeld being "a show about nothing" was an in-joke that acquired wide traction. "The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later," said Jerry Seinfeld in 2012 (opens in new tab), "and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it's the opposite of that".
This is one of the oddest AI creations I've ever seen. The most striking thing about it, though you'll need to watch for a few minutes to get this sense, is how it sometimes gets the pacing of a given scene so spot-on, and that many of the jokes made by the characters are actually funny. Don't get me wrong, you're not going to think you've stumbled across a long-lost archive of unseen Seinfeld material, but it is abundantly clear that this thing has a sense of what it's trying to create and is some of the way there.
It doesn't always work, either, which just adds to the discombobulation of watching. The characters will often glitch when moving: the 'Elaine' avatar just went to sit down and her leg seemed to do a semi-circle around her torso before settling back. Sometimes they'll be talking and then just stop, the scene pausing and left to hang in the air as unknown algorithms whirr away furiously in silence, and Twitch chat hangs in suspense.
Then there's that human element, Twitch chat itself, elevating the bizarre into the communal. Good jokes are greeted uproariously, certain lines become their own little mini-memes for a few minutes, and things like the microwave's constant beeping are now a beloved cameo. There's almost this sense of cheering the AI on, and a shared pleasure when it gets something right.
The creators, Mismatch Media, say that "Nothing, Forever is a show about nothing, that happens forever. Kinda like popular sitcoms of the past, except that it never stops." It runs constantly and generates new content every minute. "Everything you see, hear, or experience (with the exception of the artwork and laugh track) is always brand new content, generated via machine learning and AI algorithms." It uses AI tech including Open AI, Stable Diffusion, and DALL-E, among others.
The big question I have is where the input data is coming from. The episodes that this thing is generating, if we're going to call them that, have unmistakeable echoes of Seinfeld even if they're original creations, while things like the characters, settings, and pacing of the dialogue (when it gets it right) are aligned with the show. Is this thing working from the scripts or the episodes?
I've asked Mismatch Media about this and received the following from one of the shows creators:
"Nothing, Forever was initially conceived as an art project four years ago, a parody of ‘90s sitcoms that ran forever and was broadcast on Twitch, as we (my co creator Brian Habersberger and I) felt like that was the best channel for it with its community based approach," said Skyler Hartle. "A big creative inspiration initially was David Lynch’s Rabbits, but we’ve evolved a lot since then."
"We’re strong believers that these forms of generative media are the future, and our bar is to produce a show that is just as strong (or stronger) as any terrestrial media airing right now in the future."
Unfortunately Hartle didn't specifically address the Seinfeld element of this. "We leverage OpenAI’s GPT-3 model for the conversational dialogue," said Hartle. "GPT-3 is trained on the entire corpus of the internet, so it has context on a ton of different things, and we use its tooling to generate our outputs, actually, for the most part."
So is the Seinfeld AI show based on Seinfeld or not? I suppose we can all have our suspicions but have to make do with, appropriately enough, nothing.