16 January 2008

Romper Room - The Next Generation

Microsoft is developing Big Brother-style software capable of remotely monitoring a worker's productivity, physical well-being and competence.

From Fox News:

The Times has seen a patent application filed by the company for a computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolisms. The system would allow managers to monitor employees' performance by measuring their heart rates, body temperatures, movements, facial expressions and blood pressure. Labor unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer's assessment of their physiological state.

Technology allowing constant monitoring of workers was previously limited to pilots, firefighters and NASA astronauts. This is believed to be the first time a company has proposed developing such software for mainstream workplaces.

Microsoft submitted a patent application in the U.S. for a "unique monitoring system" that could link workers to their computers. Wireless sensors could read "heart rate, galvanic skin response, EMG, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature, movement facial movements, facial expressions and blood pressure," the application states.

The system could also "automatically detect frustration or stress in the user" and "offer and provide assistance accordingly." Physical changes to an employee would be matched to an individual psychological profile based on a worker's weight, age and health. If the system picked up an increase in heart rate or facial expressions suggestive of stress or frustration, it would tell management that he needed help.

Britain's Information Commissioner, civil-liberties groups and privacy lawyers strongly criticized the potential of the system for "taking the idea of monitoring people at work to a new level."

"This system involves intrusion into every single aspect of the lives of the employees," Hugh Tomlinson, an expert on data protection law at the London law firm Matrix Chambers, said. "It raises very serious privacy issues." The U.S. Patent Office confirmed Tuesday that the application had been published last month, 18 months after being filed. Patent lawyers said that it could be granted within a year.

"This system takes the idea of monitoring people at work to a new level with a new level of invasiveness but in a very old-fashioned way because it monitors what is going in rather than the results," said Peter Skyte, a national officer for the British union Unite.

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office, a governmental agency that reports directly to Parliament, was no less alarmed. "Imposing this level of intrusion on employees could only be justified in exceptional circumstances," a spokesman said.

Microsoft refused to comment on the application.

"We have over 7,000 patents worldwide and we are proud of the quality of these patents and the innovations they represent," a spokesman said. "As a general practice, we do not typically comment on pending patent applications because claims made in the application may be modified through the approval process."


Romper, bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Microsoft mirror, tell me today. Have all my friends been productive at work?
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Myths which are believed in tend to become true.
George Orwell

4 comments:

tara said...

Big brother IS watching. This is a hypochondriac's dream--to have every body function monitored at every moment--talk about self-aware.

Sanctus Belle said...

ok, I remember that Romper Room lady and I waited, waited, waited...for her to say my name and she NEVER did! Never fully recovered as you can tell....(sniff) :)

swissmiss said...

Tara:
It's just too much information for even a hypochondriac. Yuck!

SB:
I NEVER heard my name either. Maybe that's why our generation is messed up...the Romper Room lady didn't say our name. It's all her fault. Maybe we should start a twelve step program for ourselves and those like us. Do some Romper Room regression and reaffirmation.

Sanctus Belle said...

"My name is Belle and I'm a Romper Room Reject..." LOL!