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Microsoft readies Hal 9000

The corporate lie detector

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It gives a whole new meaning to the word "micromanager."

Judging from a recent patent application, Microsoft hopes to build some sort of "activity monitoring system" that keeps an eye on worker productivity using various "physiological or environmental sensors." These sensors would track everything from heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature, facial expressions, and blood pressure to brain signals and galvanic skin response.

Yes, galvanic skin response is what drives a lie detector.

Redmond sees this system as a way for companies and, um, governments to monitor "group activities." "In particular, the system can monitor user activity, detect when users need assistance with their specific activities, and identify at least one other user that can assist them," the patent application reads, in classic patent speak. "Assistance can be 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."

In other words: If you don't do your duty, the system will make sure your duties are assigned to someone else.

The system is designed to provide its unique brand of "assistance" as workers slave away on various computing devices, including desktops, laptops, and cell phones. But it doesn't just track your physical use of such devices. It also monitors things like "frustration and stress."

And it always knows whether you can handle this frustration and stress. "Baseline or 'normal' parameters for each user can be established in view of the fact that different body types and sizes and personalities can display different physical, mental, and emotional responses to similar situations," the patent application continues. "For example, an elevated heart rate during tax return preparation may be considered normal for one user and not an indication that help is needed but for another user, the inverse may be true."

Plus, all this personal information is safely stored away for future use. According to Microsoft, that's a good thing. "The system can aggregate activity data across users and/or devices. As a result, problems with activity templates or activities themselves can be more readily identified, user performance can be readily compared, and users can communicate and exchange information regarding similar activity experiences."

If you ask us, we'd feel safer under the care of the Hal 9000. ®

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