Unveiling the Infinite: Is Nothing, Forever’s A.I.-Generated Livestream a Work of Art?
Nothing, Forever, an infinitely-generative, never-ending A.I. sitcom episode premiered on Twitch in December of 2022. It elicited plenty of descriptors: Surreal, nonsensical, awkward, terrifying, even transphobic. But is it also a work of art?
“Remember that life is full of strange and wonderful creatures, even if they don’t always wear top hats.”Larry Feinberg
A Reflection of Our Relationship with Mass Media and Technology
Nothing, Forever was created by Mismatch Media, led by developers Skyler Hartle and Brian Habersberger. It premiered on Twitch in December 2022 with a cast of characters based on those of Seinfeld. Is this never-ending A.I.-generated livestream art?
Sociality Squared content creator Edward Gibbons-Brown says the answer is yes.
During a two-hour binge-watch, Gibbons-Brown was impressed by Nothing, Forever as a piece of pop art, utilizing the familiar reference point of 90s-era American sitcoms along with the raw materials of A.I. generation to “hold the mirror up to the vacuousness of our relationship with mass media and tech; a bleak, surreal, absurdist reflection.”
Gibbons-Brown noted that some moments during his viewing were even genuinely funny, if darkly so, such as when Larry’s comment, “A sandwich this good makes life worth living…let’s just hope they never change the recipe…” was followed by a long, awkward silence, or when another character wondered, “What if the robots had a standup comedy show? That would be the best.”
At other moments, the show evoked a Beckett-esque Theatre of The Absurd. For example, the characters constantly discussed a new restaurant that “just opened down the street,” debating whether or not to go check it out and remarking that they wouldn’t want to miss out on the experience — while never actually committing to going or figuring out how to get there.
Gibbons-Brown notes, “Again, the fact that it’s an inert machine coming up with this stuff based on how it interprets our collective mass data input makes it so much more pointed than a human writer creating similar dialogue. It’s not a subjective opinion about FOMO, it’s a real pattern.”
Nothing, Forever Controversy
The livestream was temporarily suspended from Twitch after Larry Feinberg (the Jerry Seinfeld stand-in) delivered transphobic and homophobic material during his stand-up comedy set. According to Mismatch Media, the digital art collective responsible for Nothing, Forever, this was due to a GPT-3 outage, which caused the creators to switch to a less sophisticated language model to generate the endless show’s dialogue.
Even Larry’s transphobia, which, Gibbons-Brown noted, “should absolutely not happen,” can be viewed as a timely reflection. “The A.I. isn’t making anything up,” he continued. “If Larry does transphobic comedy, it’s because it’s a big enough problem in the real world to infect the LLM’s learning.”
The show made a comeback on Twitch in March 2023. When the Nothing, Forever returned, it had been recast with new characters, disappointing many fans who felt, as Levi Winslow of Kotaku wrote, “the meta-humor that came with parodying Seinfeld” was gone.
Regardless, to Gibbons-Brown, the first iteration of the show was “absolutely a milestone in the artistic use of A.I.” and “a work of genius – seriously!” Although the new cast may have lost some satirical edge, the concept of using A.I. as raw material for pop art remains shockingly brilliant.
Gibbons-Brown also notes, “If Warhol was around today,” he concluded, “I think he’d be doing something like this.”