‘I like pizza with cheese’: Joey from Friends made immortal with AI

21 Oct 2016

From left: Friends stars Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc in 2002. Image: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

How you doin’, AI Joey? With the hit sitcom Friends over with no sign of a return, fans can rest easy knowing a team of researchers is keeping Joey alive as an AI chatbot.

It has been 12 years since the Friends cast walked off into the sunset – or at least through the apartment door – and in that time, the actors involved have all gone on to have successful careers in their own right.

But diehard fans are still hoping for the show about a group of 20-somethings living in New York to return, despite the fact that most of them are now approaching 50.

Fear not however, as a team of computer scientists from the University of Leeds is hoping to immortalise the entire Friends cast by using machine learning and AI to create entirely new dialogue, starting with Joey.

In the team’s research paper entitled Virtual Immortality: Reanimating characters from TV shows, the team said the objective of its project is to “build virtual talking avatars of characters fully automatically from TV shows”.

Analysing 97 hours of footage

This is achieved by “capturing a character’s style of speech, visual appearance and language in an effort to construct an interactive avatar of the person and effectively immortalise them in a computational model”.

In a video uploaded by Prosthetic Knowledge that highlighted the team’s work, the technology behind the proof-of-concept research showed how the team’s machine-learning tool works.

By analysing the facial expressions of the entire 97 hours of the Friends back catalogue, and matching it up with the existing show’s scripts, the AI can then ‘speak’ entirely new sentences based on what the machine-learning tool thinks Joey would say.

Therefore, it is hard to deny that you could imagine Joey saying something like “I like pizza with cheese”, or “Dude, I don’t care”.

However, in terms of uses for this technology, the team said in its paper that it could create a “natural interface” between humans and machines, such as turning Siri or Google Now into Joey.

What do you think about that, Joey?

Friends stars Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc in 2002. Image: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic