The best character from the 90s sitcom Friends was Joey Tribbiani, and don't even try to argue with me. The womanizing Italian-American actor is simultaneously hilarious and adorable. Which is why it's absolutely right that he was the only cast member to get a (slightly questionable) spin-off, and why it's right that he's going to be the first TV character to be immortalised as an artificial intelligence.
Yeah, you read that right. James Charles, Derek Magee and David Hogg from the computer science department at Leeds University are developing a "virtually immortalised" edition of Joey Tribbiani, who they hope you'll soon be able to talk to like you talk to Siri or Alexa.
In a , which doesn't yet appear to have been peer-reviewed or submitted to a scientific journal, the trio describe their quest to "build virtual talking avatars of characters fully automatically from TV shows".
Generative Computational Model
"For many years humans have been enthralled with recording people and their activities using e.g. sculpture, paintings, photographs, video and sound," they write.
"We strive to modernize the existing set of recording methods by building a generative computational model of a person’s motion, appearance, speech, language and their style of interaction and behavior."
Here's how it works. A set of algorithms scan through various episodes of the TV show, tracking the different characters - along with their body language, voice and facial expressions. Another algorithm analyses the scripts to see how the subject puts sentences together.
When combined, you get an avatar of that character who can come up with new sentences in their own voice, accompanied by believable body and facial movements. That's the theory at least. In practice, it's still a little way off. Skip to one minute into the following video:
The One That Never Ends
Eventually, the team hopes to use the technique on characters from other TV shows, creating new scenes where they have new conversations. That could mean infinite machine-generated episodes of Friends for ever. Which I'm pretty cool with.
What I'm less cool with is the idea of a rogue AI stealing Joey's identity and taking over the world, repeating "I like pizza with cheese" over and over again as its robotic feet crunch through the bones of the last humans alive.