HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Patent on Feelings

The Wall Street Journal's Health blog reports on one of Microsoft's latest patent attempts.  The story states,


Say you’re sitting at your computer, typing away, and suddenly you see something — an ominous email from the boss, maybe — that makes you nervous. Your heart races, and you lose focus on your work. A minute later, a colleague IMs you and offers to lend a hand. Creepy? Useful? Both?

We pose the question because Microsoft has applied for a patent on a system for “monitoring group activities” that could automatically keep an eye on people’s vital signs as a way to see how everybody’s doing and to send help when it’s needed.

The system could use 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,” the application says.

Those signs could allow a system of the future to “automatically detect frustration or stress in the user via physiological and environmental sensors and then offer or provide some type of assistance accordingly.”

The patent application is posted on the Web site of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and was described in a recent story in the Times of London.  The application (which refers not only to desktop computers but also to mobile devices) “does not relate to any of Microsoft’s current product plans,” Microsoft VP of Intellectual Property and Licensing Horacio Gutierrez said in a statement. . . .

Hey sounds great to me -  it sure would be fun to have this technology available at the next faculty meeting.  Those meetings could use some extra spark .    Ok, on a serious note, I find it rather troubling for a number of reasons - doesn't the technology sound a bit like a lie detector test (i.e., perhaps a bit unreliable).   Plus, my e-mail box still contains a lot of spam.  I am sure that my co-workers will want to know my response to yet another ad for an impotence cure. . . . .    I can hardly wait for their assistance . . . .

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