The virtual "talking head" can express a full range of human emotions and could be used as a digital personal assistant or to replace texting with "face messaging," the University of Cambridge reported Tuesday.
Researchers at Toshiba's Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering said the lifelike face can display emotions such as happiness, anger, and fear, and can change its voice to express any feeling the user wants it to simulate.
The face is actually that of British actress Zoe Lister, who spent several days with the Cambridge researchers as they recorded her speech and facial expressions.
The digital Zoe is remarkably data-light, as the program used to run her is just tens of megabytes in size and can be easily incorporated into even the smallest computer devices, including tablets and smartphones, the researchers said.
The program can have Zoe express a set of fundamental, "primary color" emotions with six basic settings -- Happy, Sad, Tender, Angry, Afraid and Neutral.
"This technology could be the start of a whole new generation of interfaces which make interacting with a computer much more like talking to another human being," Cambridge engineer Roberto Cipolla said.
"In the future, we will be able to open up computing to far more people if they can speak and gesture to machines in a more natural way," he said. "That is why we created Zoe -- a more expressive, emotionally responsive face that human beings can actually have a conversation with."