A new patent filed by Microsoft describing plans to develop a system that would allow managers to monitor workers’ physiological states through their computers with the ostensible goal of helping them if they become frustrated has left observers feeling anything but reassured.
The patent hopes to address what Microsoft sees as “relatively inefficient” communications between humans and machines; none of them automatically adapt to the user. Microsoft hopes to make these interactions more seamless by providing assistance “in the form of answering questions, providing guidance to the user as the user completes the activity, or completing the activity such as in the case of taking on an assigned activity,” reads the patent application.
Unsurprisingly, many bloggers, privacy advocates and other observers did not like the sound of this one bit. The Times Online noted that “unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer’s assessment of their physiological state.” Ars Technica asked if this patent is “a harbinger of a dystopian future where computer users’ biorhythms will be monitored to increase efficiency?” though then determines it unlikely.
More likely, this is the next step in the kind of focused user group testing Microsoft and others have been doing for years. But just in case, you might want to think the next time your hurl expletives at a your computer lest you end up in some company-mandated sensitivity training program.