Microsoft has patented emotion-sensing software for its Kinect gaming system, suggesting technology that can read feelings may be central to future digital inventions.
Soon, according to Microsoft, Kinect's motion-sensing camera will be able to determine if people are happy or sad by analyzing their facial expressions and vocal tones.
"If the user on the videos or images from the computing device, e.g., Microsoft Kinect, is pacing back and forth, the advertisement engine may assign a negative emotional state, such as, worried, to the user," the patent application explains.
In addition to monitoring users' physical behavior, Kinect can also decipher emotions by interpreting search terms, online gaming performance and even emails, giving it a window into users' mindsets and potentially shifting its behavior to adjust accordingly.
Kinect joins several other emotion-sensing technologies that are striving to help machines crack the human code of behavior and emotion, employing sophisticated algorithms and often simple hardware to read feelings.
MIT's Mind Reader software can scan faces in a crowd to determine audience mood, a tool that may replace opinion polls and help public speakers tailor their words for maximum impact. IBrain goes one step further by analyzing brain waves instead of facial expressions. The technology may help autistic people and stroke victims communicate their feelings without resorting to speech.
And Nuance, which built the Siri voice recognition system, recently created a platform to help electronics recognize when their owners are happy or sad. The technology may save lives if implemented in cars, where it could detour enraged people away from heavy traffic.
Kinect's emotion-sensing software may impact more people, since Microsoft's gaming platform has already spawned a thriving ecosystem of spin-off inventions. Hackers and other inventors have developed software for the gaming device, turning into a whole new platform that is widely distributed and easily accessible.
Minnestota's Institute of Child Development, for example, uses Kinect's motion-sensing camera to diagnose autism while the University of Washington has transformed it into a non-invasive body scanner. University of Surrey researchers even used Kinect to develop mini satellites that dock together like LEGOs in space, reducing rocket fuel and assembly costs.
Given the growing number of Kinect-based inventions, it's likely the platform's emotion-sensing software will soon be a major feature in future projects.
Advertising may be a big part of Kinect innovations as well, since Microsoft plans to use the platform's emotional sensitivity for matching ads to people's moods. For example, Kinect may show sad people advertisements for Xanax, while overly frustrated gamers may earn themselves ads for anger management classes.
"Weight-loss product advertisers may not want their advertisement to appear to users that are very happy," the company predicts. "Because, a person that is really happy, is less likely to purchase a self-investment product that leverages on his or her shortcomings."
These tactics may increase ad relevancy, but may not please customers if they view such advertisements as invasive.
Whether or not Microsoft's emotionally-driven advertising plans are successful, future Kinect games and inventions will likely wow users with the ability to guess their feelings.