Review: Nothing, Forever Is Funny, but Not the Way Seinfeld Is Funny

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Writing generated by artificial intelligence tends to fall into two categories: the flat and the weird. Ask ChatGPT a simple question, and it will reply in the diction of a mediocre middle-school student trying very hard to please a teacher. But if you give it a sufficiently unusual assignment, you might get something more surreal.

Nothing, Forever is an extended experiment in bot-generated surrealism. Since December 14, four figures modeled on the central characters of Seinfeld have been moving awkwardly across a Twitch landscape that looks like an ancient video game, with their dialogue scripted by an artificial intelligence. In theory this will go on forever, though as I write it has been taken temporarily offline while the creators try to find a way to keep the characters from saying anything transphobic.

Where the original Seinfeld was built around close observations of social conventions, this sitcom from the uncanny valley feels like it was constructed by aliens unable to interpret any human conventions at all. The characters might suddenly start discussing the afterlife, or might descend into non sequiturs; a laugh track inserts itself at semirandom intervals. In one sequence, the Jerry Seinfeld stand-in stood onstage at a comedy club for minutes without saying a word.

If you catch this in the right frame of mind, it’s pretty funny—though the reasons it’s funny have nothing in common with the reasons Seinfeld is funny.

Be they flat or weird, bot writers work by scooping up debris from the noösphere, recombining it, and depositing it into a new context. We had analog versions of that long before ChatGPT existed: William Burroughs described the cut-up method, in which he extracted pieces of preexisting texts and rearranged them, as a writing machine. Everything since then is just refinement.

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