One of the few weaknesses of technology is that it can’t show emotion, which is an essential part of everyday life but researchers at the University of Cambridge are working to change that. These researchers have developed a virtual assistant that can emulate a range of emotion. In order to do this they filmed an actress, Zoe, saying thousands of sentences with different emotions and by studying the movement of her face they were able to create a model that could say anything conveying the emotion you select. The researchers think that because they have already developed the model it won’t be difficult for them to adjust the program so that people can use their own faces as the virtual assistant instead of Zoe’s simply by scanning a photo of yourself and recording your voice. This means that you could send a text saying, “I got an F on the test” that would accurately depict your sadness and frustration. The recipient of the text would see your face saying the words with the appropriate emotion.
Not only can this virtual assistant display emotion, it can display infinite variations of emotions because the intensity, pitch, speed, and depth can all be adjusted. Furthermore, this technology can be easily integrated into cell-phones and other portable devices because it only takes up tens of megabytes of storage. While normally I applaud advances in technology it’s scary to think that the gap is closing on technology’s one true weakness; pretty soon technology is going to be eerily life-like. While I don’t think this technology is solid enough to be implemented yet, it is only going to continue to progress and before we know it virtual assistants who talk and act like real assistants will be commonplace. The question remains, is this a good thing?
Just the idea of a software program that can create what seems to be a functioning human being is mind-boggling. On the one hand if innovators can develop this technology enough so that this “virtual assistant” is doing more than just taking the place of Siri and was able to do the work of an actual assistant than I think it could be a good thing. It could free people up from doing mundane tasks that traditionally people have to do over the phone or face to face because it requires the other person to see how you are feeling. If technology could take care of all the little tasks that take up a lot of time than I think it could be a positive thing. However I’m worried that the ability to just send an image of your face, saying what you want it to say with the emotion you want it to show, could detach us from each other even more. Nowadays emailing, texting, and any form of social media is diminishing the need for phone calls or face to face conversations and I think this new “virtual assistant” would only worsen the problem by creating the allusion of real contact. At it’s best this technology will allow us to convey exactly what we mean without ever having to be in the same room but at it’s worst this advancement, which allows technology to have more emotion, will cause humans to feel less.
For further information visit http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/futureoftech/virtual-assistant-gets-emotional-command-1C8932485