Face of the future rears its head screenshot video. (2013 YouTube, LLC)
Described by her creators as the future of computer interaction, Zoe can express emotions and can change her tone of voice to suit the information being conveyed.
A talking head that could one day become your smartphone's personal assistant, Zoe was created by researchers from Toshiba's Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering. Based on a real Zoe, namely British actress Zoe Lister, Zoe's incredibly life-like, animated talking head is, according to its creators, the most expressive and controllable avatar ever created, capable of expressing and replicating human emotions with unprecedented realism.
Zoe can express anger, fear, tenderness, happiness, sadness and neutrality. What's more, these emotional states can be expressed in varying strengths or combinations based on the information 'she' is conveying. What's more, the programming that makes Zoe possible only takes up megabytes rather than gigabytes of disk space, meaning that the technology could be easily installed on a current-generation smartphone or other mobile device. Her designers believe that she is already capable of replacing traditional text messaging but could easily be used as a personal assistant and could herald a new way for consumers to interact with the digital world.
"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," Professor Roberto Cipolla, from the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, said. "Present day human-computer interaction still revolves around typing at a keyboard or moving and pointing with a mouse," Cipolla added. "For a lot of people, that makes computers difficult and frustrating to use. 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. That is why we created Zoe -- a more expressive, emotionally responsive face that human beings can actually have a conversation with."
To this extent, users can already program Zoe to recite a message and select the accompanying emotional tone. What's more, Zoe could be used a template over which different users could upload their own face and voice for a truly personal touch.
But customizing smartphones is only one potential use for the technology. Zoe's creators are also exploring how the avatar could be used to educate autistic children and help them to 'read' emotions, as well as for uses within video gaming, lecturing and presentations and even as a narration system for audio-visual books.