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AI ‘Seinfeld’ Parody Experiment Foretells Streaming’s Hellish Future

Elaine mimes devil horns on her head in Seinfeld.

An AI-powered Seinfeld parody show that is constantly streaming on Twitch has been getting a lot of attention lately, and in the immortal words of Diane Court in Say Anything, “I’ve glimpsed our future and all I can say is … go back.” So if the previous sentence sounded like nonsense, let me explain: Someone in their infinite wisdom woke up one day and said to themselves, “I would like to devote my time today to create an online show that will run continuously. I want it to seem like a Seinfeld parody. The show will be powered entirely by AI. I think I will call it ‘Nothing Forever.'”

Friends, I’m sure the conversation didn’t go exactly like that, but the show is a very real creation of someone named Skyler Hartle, along with Brian Habersberger. Per Vice:

“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

Does anyone else get the feeling we’re at the beginning of a horror movie here, where these small changes in the way things are made are going to have shockingly huge repercussions in a short amount of time? I sure do. Hartle explained, to Vice, exactly why, painting a picture of a future where AI-generated shows never have to end, and audience feedback directly affects what happens in a series.

This seems like a hellish landscape to me. A never-ending show that is completely tailored to an individual viewing experience.? Ew. Gross.

First off, communal TV watching was a true joy of growing up. There was a special designation of honor for whoever got to go home early in high school because it meant they got to watch Passions, and anyone who is familiar with that show knows that an hour of Passions is like a season of any other show. They literally had an orangutan nurse named Nurse Precious, whom all the characters treated like a regular working nurse and never acknowledged that she was, you know, a primate.

The point is that the Passions viewer could come to school the next day and catch us all up on what was going on. Or, if by some chance it was a half day, or we had collectively decided to play hooky, we could all laugh about whatever we had watched the day before. It was a true bonding component of our friend group.

Secondly, there’s something disturbing about having content tailor itself to you. Where is the joy in discovering something new and out of your comfort zone? It’s the equivalent of being an adult who never ventured outside of trying the foods they ate as a toddler. What is the point of all this suffering, taxes, heartache, and lack of elasticity in my damn skin if it’s not to grow and discover new things I enjoy as I age? The idea of coming home, turning on the TV, and having some computer tailor a program to my specific tastes is horrifying. Who is this for, exactly?

I truly loathe the idea of taking art out of the hands of creatives and putting it into a computer’s algorithm to spit out a show tailored to what it thinks your interests are. I’m also extremely confident that an algorithm could never have come up with the premise for Passions in a million years, let alone half the storylines on the show. (At one point, there was a prolonged rollercoaster ride in hell; and don’t get me started on Timmy, who was Tabitha the witch’s evil doll, who eventually became a real boy because the Little Angel Girl made him one. I could go on and on.) A human can create from nothing, but a computer can only reassemble from the algorithm it’s been supplied with. I know which one I prefer.

Additionally, where is the chance for shows to improve and grow into classics? Parks and Rec and the US version of The Office notoriously had shaky first seasons before they grew into the beloved classics they are now. If the algorithm is constantly tweaking based on your feedback, the show (if you can call it that) never finds time to get its footing and cohesively gel, because you’re never letting it.

I’m in no hurry for the future the Vice article lays out, and don’t see why anyone would be, for the many reasons outlined above. I firmly believe we have to keep creative people involved in creative work and keep AI out of it for as long as we possibly can.

(via Vice, featured image: NBC)

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