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The next "Siri" could laugh, cry, and be angry

Posting in Technology

This could become the face of your smart phone's personal assistant

The campy robotic monotone that has been the hallmark of digital personal assistants from HAL 9000 to Apple's Siri might soon be obsolete. A new interface technology can impart human emotions onto lifelike computerized avatars.

Researchers at Toshiba's Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering partnered to build an avatar, called "Zoe," which can simulate the requisite emotions when as users type and indicate their mood. The team suggests that Zoe would be a good fit for texting applications or assistants. Could this be the end of awkward misinterpretations of texts? Cambridge thinks so.

"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," said University of Cambridge professor Roberto Cipolla.

"It took us days to create Zoe, because we had to start from scratch and teach the system to understand language and expression. Now that it already understands those things, it shouldn't be too hard to transfer the same blueprint to a different voice and face," Cipolla continued.

Zoe has faired well in practice, as volunteers were successfully able to recognize its emotional state up to 77% of the time when the avatar was given a voice. The researchers are working on ways to personalize Zoe for individual users, and anticipate that Zoe could have a profound impact on human-computer interaction.

(image credit: Cambridge)

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— By on March 19, 2013, 2:18 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure