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Nothing Forever has been on the air for about 2,500 straight hours.
It's a sitcom, in the loosest sense of the term. A troupe of listless, 30-something burnouts amble through their empty existences, kicking up mild drama and languid storylines wherever they go. The cast sips coffee in drab cafes; they hatch harebrained business plans; they sit on dingy couches and espouse eccentric marijuana thoughts; they spill their musings into personal blogs and reforge their grievances into material for stand-up open-mics.
Textually, Nothing Forever is clearly modeled off of Seinfeld and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia — two classics of vacuous plotlines and sour lowlifes. The one difference? Nothing Forever is generated entirely from A.I. and is broadcasted live on Twitch. The show trudges onwards into infinity, because the writer's room never sleeps.
I thought a sitcom would be the perfect place to start for an AI. show, because it has the structure where it tells you when to laugh, or where the jokes are
"I saw some A.I. bots that were trained to reproduce YouTube comments, and it was able to generate results that were pretty convincing. Once I started seeing coherent sentences, I was like, 'Okay, this is on a trajectory where it could be pulled together into a show,'" said Brian Habersberger, co-founder of Mismatch Media, the company behind Nothing Forever.
"I thought a sitcom would be the perfect place to start for an AI. show, because it has the structure where it tells you when to laugh, or where the jokes are. The technology has gotten so much better, even in the past year, that now it can generate human-quality jokes and screenwriting."
And so, Nothing Forever has emerged as the vanguard of the automation revolution; living proof of the way the entertainment industry might be totally reinvented by the ghosts in the machines. The show isn't a perfect replication of the sort of bingeable television that dominates your weeknight schedules; there is no propulsive tension coursing through these episodes, and the characters on screen are not altered, spiritually or physically, by the passage of time.
But when held up against the grand catalog of ambient network comedies — the stuff you half-watch while knee deep in a Destiny raid — Mismatch has come remarkably close to passing the Turing Test. As far as the company is concerned, it's only a matter of time before procedural generation becomes a fixture of our consumption habits.
"When we got the character models and the voices going, that's when it started to get very eerie," said Skyler Hartle, the other co-founder of Mismatch Media. "We could see the visuals popping out and the narrative thread together. That was when we were like, 'Oh, [the A.I. revolution] is going to happen, like, now."
AI is already making headway in Hollywood
They aren't wrong for feeling that way. A.I. is already making headway into Hollywood. You can watch entire short films written and directed by ChatGPT on YouTube, and Val Kilmer's speaking voice has been resuscitated with the help of the algorithm. On Twitch, a number of copycat shows have cribbed the Mismatch formula. AlwaysBreakTime, for instance, is an infinitely replicating slice-of-life anime filled to the brim with uncanny punchlines. The rapid advance in automation has forced everyone to rethink what is possible and impossible, ethical and unethical. Everyone in the entertainment sector has taken notice.
"I think we're going to see more A.I. integrated into content, and it's going to be more intuitive," said Byron Allen, founder of Entertainment Studios, in an interview with CNBC, when asked to give his predictions for the future of the streaming industry. "I think AI is going to help understand the touch points in content and how to make it better and more compelling and engaging."
The Mismatch team do occasionally tinker with Nothing Forever's backend. What you see on screen is not manifested entirely out of A.I. autonomy. Habersberger notes that, for a spell, the people who populated this psychedelic, Seinfeldian dreamscape couldn't stop gabbing about socks, as if the deepmind behind the scenes was uniquely captivated by earthling footwear. Eventually, the humans stepped in to stop the madness. "We're not afraid to go into the model to say, 'Less socks please,'" said Habersberger.
There was also a moment, in February, after Nothing Forever briefly swapped to a different A.I. model, where some crude, anti-LGBTQ humor was introduced into the script. Nothing Forever served a two week suspension from Twitch, and the Mismatch team issued both an apology, and a new content moderation system, to prevent that indiscretion from happening again.
“We feel very strongly that it’s our duty as people in the generative space to do this as safely as possible," Hartle told The Verge.
Regardless of those growing pains, the company remains resolute in their belief that everlasting, A.I.-extrapolating content is going to have a seismic impact on the ways we burn our free time. The material limits on a TV binge have been permanently sundered. Viewers tune into Nothing Forever for its one-of-a-kind uncanny enchantment — how it seems to encapsulate the cresting dawn of an uncertain future — but Habesberger also believes that there is something slightly nostalgic about the format of Mismatch's programming. Yes, aesthetically the show takes its cues from '90s sitcoms, but the way we watch it also harkens back to a simpler, pre-streaming era.
"[Nothing Forever] a shared experience. When you were a kid, and your favorite sitcom was on Wednesday night, you'd go to school or work on Thursday, you'd talk about the episode because everyone watched it at the same time," said Habersberger. "On-demand is great. But there's a certain kind of consuming media together that's been lost."
The Eternal Adventures of Batman and Robin?
Mismatch Media is currently hard at work on developing an interdisciplinary A.I. generative platform, so that creators around the world can create their own spins on the Nothing Forever formula. Does that mean we'll soon be living in a world totally beset by infinite, self-replicating broadcasts? The Eternal Adventures of Batman and Robin? The Automated Quests of Indiana Jones? Not quite. Both Habersberger and Hartle argue that while forever-broadcasts will become a new division of the global media diet, generative content can be easily folded into other existing entertainment formats.
"We're looking at this holistically. Yes, you can create always-on shows with these tools. But that doesn't mean you can't also make a season of a show with these tools. Or a movie. Or a podcast. Or whatever else you want to do," says Hartle. "We look at this as a fundamental shift, as the technology matures, in the way that we create media."
If Mismatch's vision comes to pass, we'll all be soon enjoying the fruits of the deepmind without ever knowing if a machine is sitting in the director's chair. It's a prospect that's simultaneously exciting, chilling, and a little bit funny. The future is now, and its avatar is an eternal sequence of Seinfeld-flecked sketches. Sit back and relax for as long as you want. Days, weeks, months, years.
Luke Winkie is a freelance writer at IGN.