Four pixelated cartoon characters talk to each other about coffee, Amazon deliveries, and veganism as they stand apart in a decorated NYC apartment. There is one woman and three men who seem to be the animated versions of Seinfeld’s main characters, Elaine, Jerry, George, and Kramer. But unlike Seinfeld, these characters are set in a modern-era NYC, and their voices and bodies look and sound robotic. That’s because “Nothing, Forever” is a live-streaming show that’s almost entirely generated by algorithms. It’s been streaming non-stop on Twitch since December 14.
“Nothing, Forever” exhibits many of the qualities of a 90s sitcom—the conversations are mostly set in an apartment’s living room and about love interests or making plans with each other, without ever seeing the characters leave the apartment. Yet, oftentimes, the dialogue falls apart and becomes illogical. “Oh, it’s a shame how about the movie,” the George character said. “Thank you for that. I think so,” replied the Elaine character.
Skyler Hartle, the co-creator of “Nothing, Forever,” told Motherboard that the show was created as a parody to Seinfeld. “The actual impetus for this was it originally started its life as this weird, very, off-center kind of nonsensical, surreal art project,” Hartle said. “But then we kind of worked over the years to bring it to this new place. And then, of course, generative media and generative AI just kind of took off in a crazy way over the past couple of years.”
Hartle and his co-creator, Brian Habersberger, used a combination of machine learning, generative algorithms, and cloud services to build the show. Hartle told Motherboard that the dialogue is powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model and that there is very little human moderation of the stream, outside of GPT-3’s built-in moderation filters. “Aside from the artwork and the laugh track you'll hear, everything else is generative, including: dialogue, speech, direction (camera cuts, character focus, shot length, scene length, etc), character movement, and music,” one of the creators wrote in a Reddit comment.
Between scenes, “Nothing, Forever” displays an establishing shot of a colorful facade of a New York City line of brownstones. At the end of some scenes, the Jerry-inspired character named Larry has a standup segment where he speaks into a microphone and tells jokes to an imagined audience. Though the laugh track is accurately dispersed throughout the show’s scenes pacing-wise, it hasn’t quite identified the qualities of humorous speech and often comes after a random or mundane line. There is also a channel guide that pops up after a few scenes, and other scheduled shows on the program titled “Watch Forever” include “News” and “Doctor.”
“As generative media gets better, we have this notion that at any point, you're gonna be able to turn on the future equivalent of Netflix and watch a show perpetually, nonstop as much as you want. You don't just have seven seasons of a show, you have seven hundred, or infinite seasons of a show that has fresh content whenever you want it. And so that became one of our grounding pillars,” Hartle said. “Our grounding principle was, can we create a show that can generate entertaining content forever? Because that's truly where we see the future emerging towards. Our goal with the next iterations or next shows that we release is to actually trade a show that is like Netflix-level quality.”
Hartle also said that unlike most television shows, “Nothing, Forever” is able to change based on people’s feedback that is received through the Twitch stream chat. “The show can effectively change and the narrative actually evolves based on the audience. One of the major factors that we're thinking about is how do we get people involved in crafting the narrative so it becomes their own,” he said.
In the opening of one scene, Larry says, “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” and the Elaine character responds, “It’s better than the last one we’re having.” This meta-exchange perhaps gives us hope that with each generation, the show’s scenes will become more comprehensible and funnier, until we really can’t stop watching it…forever.