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New digital assistant crosses Siri with Red Dwarf's Holly

A new digital personal assistant is on its way to your phone, and it looks a lot more human than Siri.

Siri could well have met its match with this, a personal assistant who looks strikingly like Holly from Red Dwarf. Though seeing as it's fronted by Hollyoaks actress Zoe Lister, it's considerably easier on the eye than Norman Lovett.

Also called Zoe, the virtual "talking head" has Holly's trademark disembodied head on a black background, but it otherwise unaffiliated with the long-running sci-fi comedy. It's been developed by boffins at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, alongside Toshiba's Cambridge Research Lab, and can express a full range of human emotions, from anger, to joy, to sadness, IT Pro reports.

It's still just a prototype, but the program takes up just tens of megabytes, so could easily work on a smart phone or tablet as a new way to interact with your device.

"The lifelike face can display emotions such as happiness, anger and fear, and changes its voice to suit any feeling the user wants it to simulate," the university said in a statement. "Users can type in any message, specifying the requisite emotion as well, and the face recites the text." Imagine the possibilities.

"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 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 the 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."

There's no word on when Zoe could find her way into our smart phones and tablets, but let's hope it's sooner rather than later.

Do you think gadgets need a more human face? Whose phizzog would you like on your phone? Or is a plain interface much more practical? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.