Computers that can recognise and understand human emotions could be about to move a step nearer.
Can computers ever cheer us up?
Brunel University in London is launching a three-year research project into emotion recognition technology that could make the interaction between computers and humans far friendlier in the future.
The research team will conduct a series of experiments aimed at gauging emotional responses to computers and how people react if computers respond to their moods.
Already computers can recognise basic human emotions in photographs, although the Brunel team acknowledges that the technology to recognise the complex emotions of a real face are still some years away.
Dr Kate Hone, research leader on the project, said computers could be trained to respond to certain cues in just the way humans read each other.
"We naturally use a number of visible and audible cues in order to recognise emotional states in other people. Facial expression is particularly important in the communication of emotion," she said.
Sensitive CD players
Getting a computer to respond to indicators of moods such as fear, sadness or anger is not going to be easy though.
One of the biggest obstacles will be the individual nature of human expression.
"Just as the characteristics of speech vary from person to person, so do the characteristics of emotional expression," said Dr Hone.
Potential applications for emotionally aware PCs could include intelligent tutors which can judge a student's understanding and adjust teaching levels accordingly.
A CD player which can select appropriate music based on the mood of the listener and games that can change the action based on emotional responses are also envisaged.
And perhaps the most useful to irate and frustrated computer users would be automated help desk systems that can offer appropriate feedback to problems.