Tech by VICE

AI Can Take Over Your Favorite TV Characters With ‘Virtual Immortality’

How you doin'?

by Madison Margolin
Oct 24 2016, 6:22pm

Friends fans probably don't associate Joey Tribbiani, the goofy forever-bachelor of the crew, with intelligence. But what about artificial intelligence?

Through generative computational modeling, researchers at Leeds University recreated Joey's character from Friends to immortalize him in an AI avatar. After binge watching all 236 episodes or 97 hours of Friends, they used algorithms to gather and synthesize information about Joey's speech, body language, and facial expressions.. The AI Joey avatar manages its own speech and movements in accordance with Joey's character.

"The objective of this work is to build virtual talking avatars of characters fully automatically from TV shows," the researchers wrote in a paper summarizing their methodology. "From this unconstrained data, we show how to capture a character's style of speech, visual appearance and language in an effort to construct an interactive avatar of the person and effectively immortalize them in a computational model."

Though the model is trained from pre-recorded material, it has the ability to generate its own brand new and interactive content, they added, which is what makes a person's avatar "virtually immortal." That means the Joey avatar can continue to "perform" in future shows.

Like the original character, the Joey avatar talks mainly about women and food. For example, the avatar generated sentences like, "Hey, Ross do you want me to talk to some lady?" or "I like pizza with cheese."

Of course, the Joey avatar isn't nearly as good as the real guy. The avatar's spoken words come out somewhat unnaturally, and its mouth is superimposed awkwardly over original shots of Joey, drawing attention to just how robotic the creation is.

The team at Leeds acknowledges there's still work to be done, though they plan to make avatars out of other characters, as well, to create entirely new scenes. "We plan to improve the rendering of the avatar and extend our model to include interaction with real people and also between avatars," they wrote.

It remains to be seen whether there is value in recreating a character like Joey Tribbiani. But in the future, this could be used to naturalize interactions between artificial intelligence and human beings.

Hey, Leeds, can you try this out next with Freaks and Geeks?

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