Did you ever receive a text message from your wife or your boss and wish that it could be read to you in an unsettling British accent by a giant disembodied woman's head against a stark black background?
Well, friend, that crazy dream of yours might just be closer to reality than you think. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have unveiled their latest progress on Zoe, a "digital talking head which can express human emotions on demand" with "unprecedented realism." Gizmag pointed out the disembodied head to us.
In other words: Something like the head in the video below could be the embodiment of your next personal assistant like Siri; a human representation of the reader of your next audiobook; or just the big face that reads you all of your text messages from now on.
Watch below to see who might be waiting in your SMS inbox in the years to come:
As you can see in the video, for any given sentence or phrase, the developers of Zoe created a sliding scale of emotions that can be plugged in and represented facially in the resulting line read. In a perfect world you'd be able to access this face, and this technology, on your smartphone, so that a lifelike avatar could read out any text on your screen with the correct corresponding emotion.
Eventually, too, the Cambridge researchers hope to integrate technology that would allow you to import a model of your own floating head, perhaps by uploading several photos. In that case, you could have a floating, talking head for each of your phone contacts, individually reading each of his or her text messages or emails to you, on the screen.
This could usher in a new era of what Zoe's creators call "face-messaging": Essentially, a text message you send that is then spoken by an animated, anatomically-realistic 3D likeness of your friend's face.
There are many, many companies both large and small working on natural human-computer interaction. The most famous is perhaps Apple, who programmed its personal assistant Siri to understand normal spoken language and to occasionally respond to queries with snark and wisecracks. IBM's Watson computer has also proven to be quite the quick learner, and there have been somewhat persistent rumors that he would show up in a smartphone sometime soon.
Where Zoe separates herself from those more refined projects, however, is in her facial expressions, especially ones she can make on the fly while gleaning meaning from written words. And now the real question: If you could cast any actress to play Siri on your smartphone, who would it be? Dame Judi Dench gets my vote, but I'm open to reasonable outside suggestions.