(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
employee monitoring, patents


Microsoft Seeks Patent On Monitoring Employees' Brains

from the brains! dept

theodp writes "A just-published Microsoft patent application for Monitoring Group Activities describes how a company or the government can determine if employees are not meeting their project deadlines through the use of detection components comprised of 'one or more physiological or environmental sensors to detect at least one of heart rate, galvanic skin response, EMG, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature, movement, facial movements, facial expressions, and blood pressure.' Yikes."

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    angry dude, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 5:39pm

    In another news...

    Mike Masnick seeks a patent for brainwashing immature techdirt readership...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Eileen, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 5:57pm

    angry dude is lame for reading a blog he "doesn't like" over and over

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 5:59pm

    Re: In another news...

    do you ever have anything intelligent to add?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Captain Nemo, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 6:21pm

    That's mildly unsettling, but on the whole a bit silly. Isn't anything important going on right now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    BJ Upton, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 6:59pm

    Can I patent tin foil hats as a way to circumvent this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Overcast, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 7:48pm

    Won't you need a person to monitor each other person? If so - who will monitor those that are monitoring? And who will monitor those than monitor the monitor's that are monitoring?

    I guess it just fits into the 'new world order' scheme of things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Shalkar, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 8:19pm

    Now I'm really creeped-out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    eskayp, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 8:33pm

    Re: monitoring employees

    Good question, Overcast; and on topic!
    Just as NSA and the FBI use carnivore and other information screening / monitoring software to scan thousands of US citizens' phone calls, MS could monitor all the personnel in a workplace by applying stress detection ( aka 'lie detection') sensing and monitoring.
    Only the workers that the software deemed 'edgy', 'uptight', or 'stressed' would be brought to managment's attention.
    Keep in mind however, all that remotely sensed data from your cubicle, factory floor, or driver's seat will be logged and 'trended' to reveal your 'stress level' over time and assign a personalized 'stress quotient' to each employee.
    An increasing number of businesses are requiring applicants to agree to interviews that include so-called 'lie detector' sessions.
    By adopting this technology, management is no longer required to feign friendly handshakes in order to check for the sweaty palms that indicate employee deceptiveness.
    The corporate 'stress server' is already sensing, recording, and serving 'stress alert' files to managers.
    The term 'Stress Analysis' is no longer restricted to the Engineering profession.
    The next logical step is to have the stress monitoring system selectively and automatically activate our shock collars or shock shorts.
    The new workplace will only require two pay levels: management and spasdic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    random cellist, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 8:41pm

    So who decides if the set quotas are actually fair? Also, Microsoft shouldn't need such methods if employees had enthusiasm and confidence in the products they are assigned to. Sounds like an easy way to allow the upper CEO's to sit on their duffs while the script monkeys do all the work.

    and as for angry dude, although everyone here may not agree with him, you have to admit that the world would be a bit more boring without the occasional heckler. Doesn't every good band have at least one sarcastic loudmouth that always seems to be at the front row of every show?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Andy, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 8:49pm


    This sounds like it's right out of Snowcrash.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    listen_to_blogs, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 9:56pm

    science fiction!!

    This patent application would make good science fiction:)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Jess, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 10:19pm

    Good or Evil

    Not be as bad a thing as most people think. It could be used to detect whether there is a need for an extended vacation. It could also be used to detect the beginnings of a mental breakdown and stop it before someone goes postal. But, I don't think that most corporations will care about that stuff, unfortunately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2007 @ 10:55pm

    same as any other lie detector patent - just gotta be wordy to pass muster

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Simple, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 6:17am

    If it ain't broke...

    ... some screenwriter out in Hollywood is jumping on this one.
    ... honestly, though... I'm leery of tech announcements that stress "convenience" as their mantra only to find them as a backdoor to the erosion of personal privacy.
    ... boy am I sounding paranoid today!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    wayne, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 7:51am

    This is an advancement

    This has no value...
    First, people almost always overestimate how far they are in a project. Second, if you have a culture of honesty then you can just ask the project team. Third, there is no subsitute for a good review process.

    Is this just a modern version of a crystal ball?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Alfred E. Neuman, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 8:15am

    On the up side

    This new microsoft product will no doubt be easily circumvented.

    On the down side, it will be hacked by nefarious nogoodniks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Mekpilot, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 8:26am

    Re: Can I patent tin foil hats as a way to circumv

    OMG, LOL! Thats funny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Spaghettihead, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 11:33am

    I can't see how this will really help anything. I worked at MS for years and everyone is stressed. I don't think measuring the amount of stress of a group will yield valuable results as far as moving projects forward, but sociologically, they may just want to figure out how long an employee will endure stress before they 'burn out'. This is much more interesting information to a company like MS who depends human resources so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 11:42am

    Microsoft product

    I'm just guessing but is this a joke? Peoples emotions change all the time for various different reasons. To be able to control that and get correct input in the process is not worth the time and trouble. Lie detector tests are a good example.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    xtrasico, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 2:10pm

    Gattaca anyone?

    This remember me the movie Gattaca. Everything was monitored and scanned. At the end, the principal character got what he wanted, with some work and a little help from friends.

    Like we say in spanish: "El que hizo la ley, hizo la trampa y le dirá a sus amigos como hacerlo" (The people that makes laws knows how to circumvent them and will show their friends how to do it).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    i, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 2:31pm

    My Place Or Yours Honey?

    Now we'll know when to stay clear of certain women and when the best time is to hit on them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    WTF NOW, Dec 29th, 2007 @ 4:20pm

    When is enough enough?

    This is beginning to get ridiculous. When are people going to start protecting their rights? I want someone to protect the privacy of my brain waves. If all jobs start to require mind reading waivers and your every thought is watched by your boss then where will this end?
    We need to start protecting our rights as a public

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Charles Birk, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 4:21am


    hahaha YES YOU CAN!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    PRMan, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 5:52am

    And if you already have sweaty hands and a differe

    Not every person is the same. Between my sweaty hands and my different electrical conductance (I almost failed a physics lab in college until I could prove to the professor that my conductance really was different), I would NEVER agree to a lie detector test.

    And any business that would attempt to make it a condition of hiring wouldn't get me as an employee.

    And yes, it would be their loss... :)

    But you guys are right. This stuff is getting ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Julie, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 8:19am

    Wire our brains

    I would not wear such a device at work. I think that fits somewhere in the 4th amendment; employers do not have the right to become so extremely invasive to our bodies.
    We live in the land of the free??? Geez!!!
    My advice, be your own boss!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 11:36am

    haha, microsoft is patent trolling

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Denholm, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re: monitoring employees

    I hereby declare WAR ON STRESS!

    If by the end of the day you are stressed, you WILL BE FIRED!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    csin, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 4:30pm

    Microsoft Patent

    Those are all things that are currently used by advanced lie detection devices.

    This is nothing more then microsoft developing a new military grade lie detector based on pulse, sweat, pupil dialation, resperation rate, and a number of other factors.

    This isnt anything new.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    harvey, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 4:38pm

    Microsoft New Year's Spoof!

    It's a New Year's Spoof! must I say anymore? Happy New Year!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Jessica, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 9:32pm

    Re: Wire our brains

    it said they could also use environmental sensors, which you would not be wearing and who knows if you could even see the device or know it was there? This is just a patent on the idea, but I hope it NEVER makes it into practice. #1 it doesnt work in the way that they want because right now we don't know what patterns mean what and it mainly just measures stress and excitement, and #2 it's a HUGE invasion of privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    John Mattos, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 6:01am

    But its microsoft!

    Well the good news is that if its Microsoft, it WONT WORK!!!!! I'm not concerned at all ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Andy, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 7:14am

    Re: But its microsoft!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Capt. Brad, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 7:35am

    Brain Drain

    Isn't obvious that the one sensor they neglected is at the crux of this patent application. I wonder what it feels like to have a chip in your brain? Just a short step from monitoring to controlling . . .

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Aaron, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 10:02am

    This works like the polygraph. Just believe in the lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    TheDock22, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 10:17am

    Don't really care.

    Microsoft could implement this system for their employees and their is nothing the employees can do but quit.

    Companies can force people to quit smoking, lose weight, and not drink alcohol (all which are legal things) when not at work. Why wouldn't Microsoft be able to monitor brain waves and stress reactions?

    If you don't like it, quit the job. In the end though, I think this technology will not provide them with what they are looking for, and that is to catch liars. Most people do not lie, and the ones that do are good enough at it to get around these measures.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Doubting Thomas, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 12:26pm

    I don't know if anyone bothered to read the patent. It sure sounds like Clippy on steroids to me.

    "I see you are behind on your project, would you like to:
    Ask for help from Steve
    Notify your manager
    blah blah blah"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    BitFreak, Dec 31st, 2007 @ 5:00pm

    Optimum Resource Utilization

    Hmm... I think Microsoft should focus more on tools/techniques to come up with a stable OS. Seems like Microsoft wants to follow Google's path toward becoming a BigBrother on the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Me, Jan 1st, 2008 @ 11:11am

    Re: Re: Wire our brains

    Jessica, this will be another way to have employer's and big brother invade our space, also used to get rid of so called "problem" employees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    eskayp, Jan 1st, 2008 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Brain Drain

    Given MicroSoft's track record, it's
    'Just a short step from...'
    Blue screen of death
    Blue scream of death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. Microsoft Seeks Patent On Monitoring Employees' Br

    Why am I not shocked, angry and filled with rage to hear this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 8:15am

    Microsoft could get this same information by monitoring the frequency of web requests to slashdot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Manta, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 10:09am

    Re: Good or Evil

    True Good or Evil,

    Or it could be used as another nail in freedoms coffin.
    My spin on the mind of Bill Gates (as viewed by an ex hacker).
    Hackerz, I mean true Hackers, are not motivated by money, they are motivated by power. Money like that of Bill Gates is a side effect of persuing power. My opinion has always been that Gates is not trying to be the richest man in the world, the money was the side effect of his stiving to have total power over the world. In other words World Conquest!

    Whether his intentions of how he would use this power are good or evil are a topic for some other discussion.

    All I have to say is guard your freedoms and rights as long as you can.
    And watch out for Vista and other programs that steal away your indivuality and self governing control.

    PS: No I am not a Microsoft hater, we owe much of the way the world functions today to mirosoft programmers and OS. All I am saying is BEWARE

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    1984, Jan 3rd, 2008 @ 8:40am

    Monitoring Employees' Brains

    Oh, let me guess. The product number etched onto each component will be "666."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    OOO CRAP, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 8:08am



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    OOO CRAP, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 8:09am



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Phil, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 9:04am

    I'm a little hesitant to post this given the (understandably) negative response to this patent app by Microsoft, but...
    ...health and wellbeing software doesn't necessarily have to be some big brother system if you're genuinely interested in helping people look after their health at work.

    Obviously I'm biased since I've developed an award-winning software tool to help computer users look after their health called PostureMinder. However, I thought I'd put over my thoughts and the decisions we made during the development of our product (as well as seeing if I can get in a sneaky little plug at the end).

    PostureMinder uses a webcam to continually check how you're sitting and provides reminders whenever you sit in a poor posture for a while.

    It's based on the principle that we all know how we *should* sit, but very few of us do when we're engrossed in our work or play on the computer. In effect, PostureMinder acts as your posture conscience.

    We took the decision very early on not to provide any sort of centralised monitoring or reporting information - PostureMinder's purely standalone and any posture statistics it gathers are there for you to review yourself, not for your boss to look at.

    The reason we took this stance is simple - the moment you move away from the principle that the system is purely, 100% a tool to help you look after yourself, and start adding monitoring of employees, you lose all trust and completely undermine the benefits that the software is trying to achieve.

    Perhaps something that Microsoft should bear in mind if they actually develop the sort of product their patent suggests?

    If any of you would like to try some health and wellbeing software that's genuinely been built to try to help people look after themselves in an unobtrusive, non-lecturing, non-spying way, please take a look at our website at http://www.PostureMinder.co.uk. I'd really love to hear your feedback on it.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. identicon
    dboots, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 6:23pm

    Microsoft's Monitoring

    This technology is Big Brother. Here are some other links
    about this technology, being able to be sometype of lie
    detector of The Dept of Homeland Security called
    Project Hostile Intent (PHI).

    http://www.newscientisttech.com/channel/tech/mg19526166.400?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=mg1 9526166.400

    IMAGINE the scene. You arrive at New York's JFK airport, tired after a long flight, and trudge into line at passport control. As you wait, a battery of lasers, cameras, eye trackers and microphones begin secretly compiling a dossier of information about your body.

    The computer that is processing the data from these hidden sensors is not searching for explosives, knives, guns or contraband. Instead, it is working on a much tougher problem: whether you are thinking about committing a terrorist act, either imminently, or at sometime during your stay in the US. If the computer decides that might be your intention, you will be led off for interview with security officers.

    The equipment could also screen passengers as they wait to have their bags checked before boarding, in an attempt to predict when someone is planning to bomb or hijack a plane.

    It sounds far-fetched, but this is the aim of Project Hostile Intent (PHI), the latest anti-terrorism idea from the US Department of Homeland Security. According to DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie, the DHS wants to develop systems that can analyse behaviour remotely to predict which of the 400 million people who enter the US every year have "current or future hostile intentions".

    PHI aims to identify facial expressions, gait, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration rates that are characteristic of hostility or the desire to deceive. Then the idea is to develop "real-time, culturally independent, non-invasive sensors" and software that can detect those behaviours, says Orluskie. The DHS's Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) suggests that these sensors could include heart rate and breathing sensors, infrared light, laser, video, audio and eye tracking.

    PHI got quietly under way on 9 July, when HSARPA issued a "request for information" in which it asked security companies and US government labs to suggest technologies that could be used to achieve the project's aims. It hopes to test them at a handful of airports, borders and ports as early as 2010 and to deploy the system at all points of entry to the US by 2012.

    But experts in detecting when someone is deliberately hiding something and training machines to recognise human emotions, say that the DHS faces huge challenges, and is unlikely to achieve this goal by 2010, if ever. "I can't imagine they will have any reasonable rates of success with such a system," says Kerstin Dautenhahn of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, who specialises in teaching robots to understand human intentions. "I have serious doubts that it will be successful," adds psychologist Paul Ekman of the University of California, San Francisco, an expert in detecting hidden emotions and intentions from human facial expressions.

    We already know that people betray their true intentions via involuntary behaviour. In the 1960s Ekman found that even when people are trying to hide it they often reveal what they are about to do, by showing fleeting, involuntary facial expressions known as "micro-expressions" . For example, if for a fraction of a second you bare your teeth, lower your eyebrows and wrinkle your nose, while pretending to smile, you've just made the micro-expression for disgust.

    Since 2003, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been using a program called Screening Passengers through Observation Techniques, which relies on micro-expressions. Under SPOT, dedicated "behaviour detection officers", who are trained to observe and decipher micro-expressions, observe people milling around at airports and discreetly pull aside anyone whose micro-expressions seem suspicious. After starting a casual conversation, they might then pass them on for further questioning, depending on their responses. "We have caught a number of individuals, from drug dealers to money launderers, and a double murderer in one case," says TSA spokesman Chris White.

    A big problem, however, is that SPOT is an expensive, labour-intensive process and is not something a customs official or baggage screener can do in addition to their normal work. "Right now, screeners have typically less than one minute to examine a traveller's documents and assess whether they are a threat," says Orluskie. Similarly, the infamous polygraph or lie detector test, used routinely by intelligence agencies across the world when grilling suspects - despite its questionable reliability - is time-consuming and requires an officer's undivided attention, as suspects must be hooked up to electrodes that measure blood pressure, sweat and pulse.

    Enter PHI. With this latest idea, the DHS is hoping to automate the SPOT program, so that computers, not humans, search for micro-expressions, and at the same time beef up the range of bodily signs that can be investigated. Machines will not just look for micro-expressions, they will also attempt to sense whether someone is hiding something. For this they might use a remote-controlled, non-contact version of the polygraph, bouncing lasers or microwaves off a person's skin, as suggested by the US Department of Defense in 2006. The DHS wants to use remote sensors so they don't impede the flow of travellers.
    Remote sensors will search for bodily signs that someone is hiding something



    Link I posted is to the manufacter of the Cogito Detector

    Cogito can read your mind
    Rooting out terrorists using a host of non-contact sensors might be a long way off, but a hostility detector developed in Israel is much closer to being deployed.

    A traveller being grilled by the Cogito detector, the handiwork of Suspect Detection Systems in Tel Aviv, sits inside a kiosk and places their right hand on a sensor that measures blood pressure, pulse and sweat, just like the polygraph test, while answering questions that appear on a screen. The questions are pretty benign, says SDS chief executive Shabtai Shoval, such as "Do you intend to live and work here?" But unlike the polygraph, the point is not to work out whether their answer to that specific question is a lie, but instead to compare their bodily responses to other people's. "We check their specific reaction to certain questions and see how their polygraph response differs from that of innocent people who have answered before them," says Shoval.

    He says that a would-be terrorist will react differently to an innocent person. "Terrorists know that they are planning an attack. Coming into the country a year before, all they might want to do is learn to fly airplanes. But just having that plan in their mind changes their reaction," he says. Because the test does not hinge on a display of hostility, which could be produced by someone innocent who is stressed from being in an airport and at the same time might not be displayed by a trained suicide bomber, Shoval says that Cogito is more reliable than PHI. "Take the September 11 hijackers. They did not look nervous on the CCTV footage as they stood in the queue before they ended their lives."

    The US Transportation Security Agency tried out Cogito at an airport in Tennessee last year and has ordered more $200,000 machines for further trials this year. But one problem is that either every passenger is interviewed, which slows passenger flow, or passengers will have to be profiled and a few selected, raising privacy concerns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. identicon
    Mark Marks, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 4:38pm

    Stop the tech.

    I believe that such research well result in the harasment of thousands of plp. Mind Reading Technology


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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