Researchers Have Created a Video Chatbot Starring Friends' Matt LeBlanc

By Tom Pritchard on at

It's been many years since Friends was last on the air, but don't you wish there were more episodes to enjoy? Researchers at the University of Leeds have been working on a project that turned at least one of the members of the cast into a virtual video chatbot.

Prosthetic Knowledge discovered the research, which uses machine learning to create automated video avatars that behave like their on-screen counterparts - using past footage to (sort of) generate brand new scenes starring Matt LeBlanc's Joey.

The new system was demonstrated at the European Conference on Computer Vision workshop this weekend, offering a proof of concept of what the researchers call "a generative computational model of a person’s motion, appearance, speech, language and their style of interaction and behaviour." The software deconstructed all 236 episodes of Friends, building new sentences and speech for Joey and matching it up to mouth positions from LeBlanc's original performance.

It's not a perfect final result, but it is interesting to think about. Maybe we won't be seeing brand new episodes of Friends anytime soon, but the authors believe that it could be used to create visual representations of virtual assistants (like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa) as well as creating interactive avatars of people "effectively rendering the person functionally immortal". In a manner of speaking.

The next step in the research is to create a virtual version of the bot, presumably so they can ask digi-Joey how he's doin' and get a response. They do need to be able to simulate his character if they want to work beyond simple phrases.

There is the downside that if regular people are able to create convincing digital avatars, they could easily use it for nefarious things online. Catfishing, identity theft, and so on. Used incorrectly, it would be like an episode of Black Mirror come to life.

Thankfully that is bound to be a long way off. But in the meantime, the proof of concept is an exciting prospect. [University of Leeds via The Verge]