Kinect: the Big Brother peripheral?

Paul Raven @ 22-11-2010

Concerns begin to arise around the capabilities of Microsoft’s Kinect controller – what exactly are you allowing into your front room [via MonkeyFilter]?

On Thursday, Microsoft Vice President Dennis Durkin told the BMO Digital Entertainment Investor Conference in New York that Kinect offers “a really interesting opportunity” to target content and ads based on who is playing, and to send data back to advertisers.

“When you stand in front of it,” he said, according to news reports, “it has face recognition, voice recognition,” and “we can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are.” Your wife, Durkin added, could see a different set of content choices than you do, and this can include advertising.

The advertiser will also know, he said, “how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown,” or when a game is played. He said the system, and therefore advertisers, can also know how many people are engaged with a game or a sporting event, if they are standing up and excited — even if they are wearing Seahawks or Giants jerseys.

We’ve heard about these sorts of capability before, but not in such affordable and desirable household consumer electronics items as the Kinect. Microsoft would like to assuage any concerns, however:

Apparently as a result of Durkin’s remarks, Microsoft issued a statement Thursday that neither its Xbox 360 video-game controller nor Xbox Live “use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes.”

The instinctively paranoid and mistrustful might find themselves appending a “… yet!” onto the end of that statement. And long-time Microsoft haterz will get a wry chuckle out of this follow-up:

The company added that it has a strong track record “for implementing some of the best privacy-protection measures in the industry.”

Erm, right.

Anyway, the Kinect (much like the similar devices which will doubtless follow hot on its heels) isn’t inherently nasty… but it does have the capability to be misused in Orwellian ways. Which is why I’m always glad to see clever hacker types reverse-engineering drivers for proprietary hardware; knowledge is power.


“Good enough” computing – will the recession kill off Microsoft?

Paul Raven @ 24-04-2009

laptop and netbookThis speculative futurism thing is starting to spread! Keir Thomas, Linux columnist for PC World, has posted a future retrospective piece that looks back from 2025 to the present day as the dawn of “good enough” computing… and the beginning of the end for Microsoft.

The lack of desire to relinquish XP by users was part of what became known as the “Good Enough” revolution in both software and hardware. At the beginning of the 21st century, computing hardware had evolved sufficiently to reach a level of performance that allowed for speedy execution of virtually all common computing tasks. Prior to this, the only way to guarantee good performance was to buy expensive cutting-edge hardware. But now chips costing just a few dollars offered more performance than most people would ever need.

Upgrading became less a matter of getting a better PC than about simply replacing old and broken computers with newer models. Ever resourceful during the Great Recession that struck in the early 21st century, PC manufacturers responded with ultra-cheap but “good enough” computers (both laptops and desktops) that were designed to be simple slot-in replacements for existing computers. PC manufacturers had already carved this route with netbook computers, where the goal was to be cheap and usable, with little if any frills.

Obviously there’s an element of fun-poking to Thomas’s piece (alongside the enduring positivity of the committed Linux evangelist) but as a piece of speculative futurism it’s a solid and plausible job. The details may well work out differently – and I’d be surprised to see even the recently-beleaguered Microsoft drop out of the game quite that easily – but the idea of computing as commodity was raised by Charlie Stross a year and a half ago, and many others since. As the line between mobile devices and ‘proper’ computers continues to blur (and convergence with phone handsets accelerates), Thomas’s future doesn’t look too fictional at all. [via the spiritual home of the Linux-takes-all story, SlashDot; image by Matthew Verso]


Royal Navy submarines now running on Windows; destroyers next

Paul Raven @ 18-12-2008

As someone who has opportunity to observe the hapless and Byzantine bureaucracy of the Royal Navy in action at fairly close range, I’m both unsurprised and vaguely terrified to find that their latest batch of nuclear submarines have been fully kitted out with a specially developed version of the Windows XP operating system, and that the RN is so pleased with the speedy installation that they’ll be using the same software in a forthcoming class of destroyers. [via SlashDot]

The potential punchlines to this news pretty much write themselves.


Microsoft creates an algorithmic accompanist

Edward Willett @ 07-04-2008

Neon sign of musical notes coming from singer Me, I sings a bit, and it ain’t always easy to find an accompanist when I need one. ‘Sides that, them piano players cost money. (And no, I got no explanation for why I’ve suddenly started bloggin’ in the voice of a hillbilly, ‘cept to point out I did go to school in Arkansas…)

Anyhoo…er, anyway, some new music technology invented by the folks at Microsoft could obviate the need for an accompanist, at least in some instances. Called MySong (follow that link to see a video of it in action and hear some samples) it can take a sung vocal melody and generate appropriate chords to accompany it, offering a singer a variety of accompaniments to choose from, depending on how he or she varies the “happy factor” and “jazz factor.” (Via NewScientistTech.)

Here’s how it works:

Since people rarely sing at precise frequencies, MySong compares a sung melody to the 12 standard musical notes. It then feeds an approximate sequence of notes to the system’s chord probability computation algorithm. This algorithm has been trained, through analysis of 300 rock, pop, country and jazz songs, to recognise fragments of melody and chords that work well together, as well as chords that compliment each another.

MySong isn’t on the market yet, but it’s already got me concerned, because apparently the computing power required is so slight that it will run on a cellphone–which means we may soon have to listen, not only to people talking too loud into their cellphones, but singing too loud into their cellphones.

Shudder.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]music, singing, Microsoft, technology[/tags]


Multi-touch computer as an expensive coffee table

Jeremy Eades @ 07-10-2007

It seems like the time is ripe for new technology in the way we view media and interact with computers.  First we saw wearable monitors, and now Microsoft’s come out with a tabletop touch screen with a range of applications.  The Microsoft Surface will be available only to companies at first, so it’s got applications for ordering food, a map function to help you find your way in a mall or hotel, and a jukebox function compatible with the Microsoft Zune ("subject to DRM restrictions, of course").  Possible home functions include Paint, a photo application, and a sort of jigsaw puzzle where each piece displays part of a movie and you must arrange them in the proper order.

At a launch price of $5,000-$10,000, it’s just as well your average Joe won’t be able to buy it.  But Microsoft hopes the price will come down as demand grows and technology gets cheaper.  And when it gets cheap enough, I’ll be there ready to play at being John Anderton (without the cops chasing me, of course).

(image from kjd)