University of Cambridge researchers are working on a project to replace the "text" in a text message with someone's face.
The ultimate goal of the "face messaging" project is to link friends' photos to their phone number. Therefore, when a person receives a text message, a friend's face pops up and reads the text message, complete with visual and verbal emotion.
Currently, researchers have created a virtual talking head named "Zoe." She can express human emotions on demand with "unprecedented realism."
[WATCH:Talking head demonstration]
Researchers can type in a message and choose emotions such as anger, happiness, fear and calm. For example, a smart phone user could type "I'm going to be late" and send it with a "frustrated" emotion. When the friend receives the message, the sender's face would show up on the screen and read the message in a frustrated voice.
"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 Robert Cipolla, engineering professor at the University of Cambridge.
The team is also working with a school for autistic and deaf children, using the technology to help students read emotions and lip-read.
The virtual talking head system could also be used to deliver audio-visual books and online lectures or become the "face" of a phone's concierge system, such as "Siri" on the iPhone.