It is always on, passively listening. The Personal Awareness Assistant prototype from consulting firm Accenture has a speech recognition engine, two small microphones, a small camera and a scrolling audio buffer. But its more than a recording system. For example, if a user meets someone new and says “its nice to meet you,” the Assistant takes a low-resolution picture of the person being greeted and then, when that person responds, records the name, storing the dated and time-stamped information in an address book.
Providing users with “collective intelligence” in meetings is one proposed application for the Personal Awareness Assistant. Suppose, for example, youre in a demonstration for potential customers and are asked a question outside your area of expertise. The system might—through wireless networking—allow outside members of your team, who have been listening, to provide you with the answer immediately, via an earphone. Alternatively, you could use the system simply to replay snippets of important meetings for other team members.
On the flip-side, though, the potential applications for the Personal Awareness Assistant raise privacy concerns. According to a post at Accentures Web site: “While the Assistant is meant to be unobtrusive, Accenture researchers recognize that people may initially feel that being recorded disturbs their privacy. In response, the Assistant will have a built-in light that blinks when it records, for the sole purpose of alerting the person who is being recorded.”
Privacy concerns are central to most discussions about wearable computing devices, and such devices are becoming more common. For example, Microsoft is pursuing its SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) initiative, which seeks to bring FM-based online intelligence to normal objects such as watches. The first watches, $175 to $300 gadgets from Fossil and Citizen, will show up this year and will provide news, weather, stock quotes, and other kinds of information for low subscription fees. Analysts at Gartner report that 40 percent of adults will make use of some kind of wearable computer in the next decade.