Former Hollyoaks actress Zoe Lister has become the world's first interactive talking head after lending her face and voice to a new piece of software that generates speech and facial expressions from typed text.
The avatar, which is also named Zoe, can display six emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, tenderness, fear and neutrality), and blend them to create hundreds of different vocal and facial reactions.
Joking about the technology on Twitter this morning, Lister – who played Zoe Carpenter in the C4 soap – wrote: “Future Zoe says, 'Good Morning!' (In a happy voice).”
Researchers working on the project spent several days recording the 31-year-old actress’s facial expressions and speech to create an avatar that looks rather like Red Dwarf’s computer Holly.
It creators say the technology could be used as a digital assistant for smartphones, or even as a lifelike replacement for emoticons in electronic communication.
Zoe allows users to type a message – e.g. ‘I’m going to be late for dinner’ – and decide on an appropriate facial expression (in this case, ‘frustrated’ would probably fit the bill) before sending the message to a friend. The recipient would receieve a message with the virtual face repeating the text and looking frustrated.
It is hoped that future versions of the technology will allow users to personalise it with their own faces and voices.
“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 Cambridge engineering 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.”
Lister, who left Hollyoaks in 2010, has recently been confirmed to appear in a new web-based comedy series called The Staffroom.
Watch a video of Zoe in action below: