A digital talking head based on the face of a UK soap actress could replace the traditional text message, researchers say.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a virtual head that has the ability to replicate human emotion with "unprecedented realism".
Based on the face of Hollyoaks actress Zoe Lister, 31, the human-like head can display six emotions including anger, happiness and fear. The voice and expressions are generated from typed text and can be used in combination to create a wide variety of emotions.
To create the head, the developers spent several days recording Lister's voice and facial expressions.
They now believe that "Zoe" could lead the way into a new phase of human interaction which could see the replacement of texting with "face messaging".
"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 Professor Roberto Cipolla from the University of Cambridge's department of engineering.
"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."
If this goes to plan, a user will be able to upload their own voice and face. When they text a message and match it with an emotion it will create a "face message" that looks like them and repeats the words with an expression to match.
The team are also working with a school for autistic and deaf children where the technology could help students to lip-read and "read" emotions.
"Present day human-computer interaction still revolves around typing at a keyboard or moving and pointing with a mouse," Cipolla said.
"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."