Apple has a long way to go to turn Siri into a real personal assistant but our favorite iPhone and iPad talk back mechanism is on the right track. A few years ago I invested in a Mac app that I thought would personalize a digital assistant similar to Siri. Unfortunately, Siri hasn’t advanced much in recent years, and the CrazyTalk facial animation app for the Mac remains an interesting novelty, but has yet to be coupled to anything useful.
Worse, there’s no Siri on the Mac yet.
CrazyTalk for Mac is a facial animation app that combines voice, facial expressions, and text to give you an idea of what Siri could do in the future, if only Apple would recognize the true value of a more personable personal assistant.
Think about it. Facial animation on a character that works much like Siri, but on Mac as well as iPhone and iPad. CrazyTalk requires some effort to bring a true visual representation of Siri to the screen. Images have to be selected an prepared. The facial expressions need three dimensional profiling. Lips and mouth need to sync to the text. Motion needs to be added, then animation for the entire bodyless character.
Think of CrazyTalk as a mashup of page layout, 3D animation, Garageband, and PhotoBooth. You create the character and give it life starting with face puppeteering.
CrazyTalk comes with all the tools you need to create a personal character where facial animation matches audio output, lip-sync style. And that includes muscle animation of head and face, as well as reactions, eye control, expressions, and much more.
That means you’re getting an animation tool that focuses on characters instead of objects, faces instead of products, but every element of CrazyTalk can be applied to drawings of people and even animals.
The only real problem with using CrazyTalk to create a digital avatar is that you have to build it from the ground up. Almost. It comes with all the tools you need and plenty of characters to get started, but you can create your own.
That makes CrazyTalk good for creating website avatars, but it’s the potential that I find more interesting, and that’s the marriage of personal avatar characters with Apple’s Siri technology to create a truly personable and seemingly intelligent personal assistant.
For now, the technology has limits. CrazyTalk works with a single animated avatar at a time. Animated the face to match Siri responses, for example, requires some substantial digital horsepower not easily dropped into a mobile device. Maybe that problem can never be solved. After all, the computers in Star Trek, as powerful as they seemingly were, could not do video communication between people (Star Trek communicators were audio only), and the Enterprise computer itself was audio only, no video avatar, either.
Still, a video avatar, Siri or some other character, would seem to be a natural progression of the technology. Apple has imbued a touch of human personality into Siri which would be even more attractive (usefulness is a different issue) with a visual representation.