What AI Seinfeld Has Wrought: AI SpongeBob

A Twitch stream now broadcasts an off-kilter version of "SpongeBob Squarepants" using AI.
AI Spongebob
AI Spongebob

If AI Seinfeld didn’t terrify you enough, another beloved comedy series is getting the Twitch artificial intelligence treatment. Earlier this month, the channel ai_sponge launched on the video livestream service, introducing the world to a more demented version of “SpongeBob Squarepants.”

Like AI Seinfeld (officially known as “Nothing, Forever”), which used the bones of “Seinfeld” as dressing for a rambling AI fever dream, ai_sponge takes the iconic characters of the Nickelodeon animated series — including SpongeBob himself, his best friend Patrick, his boss Mr. Krabs, and nemesis Squidward. It puts them in a series of wild meandering conversations. Presented with graphics from the cartoon’s 2003 videogame tie-in “Battle for Bikini Bottom,” the streams see an apparently AI-controlled version of SpongeBob say things like, “It has to be semen if we’re going to make that Krabby Patty stuff work” or talk about Jeff Bezos.

Making it more uncanny, the voices of the characters aren’t completely robotic and mechanical; instead, they’re often decently close approximations of their voice actors from the show, with SpongeBob having the same high-pitch as Tom Kenny and Mr. Krabs.

Tropes of the show come through in other ways; periodically, one of the “A Few Moments Later” transition cards common during the show appears onscreen, complete with narration very similar to the show. Occasionally, it all falls apart, with the voice glitching into incomprehensible gibberish.

ai_sponge launched on March 5. Unlike “Nothing, Forever,” which runs 24/7 — barring bans for when the AI goes off the rails with transphobic jokes — ai_sponge only streams periodically. After apparently getting banned 48 hours into its existence, the channel has since begun streaming every other day, usually in the mornings, for 2.6 to 4.7 hours each day.

Currently, the channel has roughly 26,000 followers on Twitch, according to TwitchTracker. Its last stream, on Friday morning, had an average of 3,500 viewers watching at one time; its max concurrent viewership was 4,461. Both are highs for the channel, which had a max concurrent viewership of only 572 people and an average concurrent viewership of 148 during its first stream.

Also unlike “Nothing, Forever,” which was made by designers Skyler Hartle and Brian Habersberger for Mismatch Media, this AI SpongeBob show doesn’t appear to have any public owner or anyone who has claimed the channel as their own. As such, it’s technically possible that the thing isn’t actually being generated exclusively by an artificial intelligence, though if not, it sure manages to capture the feel of AI art.

“Nothing, Forever” attracted a large amount of attention when it debuted in December 2022, with thousands of viewers tuning into the livestream; it also spawned a few similar shows, like the 24/7 AI-generated anime “Always Break Time”.

At the same time, “Nothing, Forever” raised concerns about how AI programs affect real-life writers, and whether its “Seinfeld” parody infringes on copyright. After returning from its Twitch ban earlier this month, the show notably has rebooted slightly, removing many of the “Seinfeld” trappings that gave it its initial publicity. ai_sponge, at least right now, likely isn’t big enough to attract real legal action from Nickelodeon — though the network would almost certainly not be a fan of a “SpongeBob” parody where the main character and Patrick talk about having sex with each other.

You can watch ai_sponge here, when it streams.

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