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Kinect-based mood analysis could bolster Microsoft’s advertising efforts

Though touted as the future of gaming interactivity, in the most basic sense Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral is just a camera. It captures images, uses complex mathematics to derive motion-capture information based on what it sees, and then uses that information to create some kind of useful feedback based on whatever software you happen to be using.

Now, according to a recent patent application, that camera could be utilized to capture your reaction to advertisements, thus offering Microsoft and its partners a more direct way to target useful ads to users.

Specifically, the patent claims that the technology would be “a computer-implemented method to determine emotional states of users that receive advertisements on client devices, the method comprising: monitoring a user’s online activity during a time period; processing the online activity to identify a tone associated with content that the user interacted with during the time period; receiving an indication of the user’s reaction to the content; and assigning an emotional state to the user based on the tone of the content and the indication of the user’s reaction to the content.”

If that’s a bit too dry for you, imagine that you’re watching an advertisement on your Xbox 360. You sneer as the bubbly spokesmodel gushes over the brilliance of the dubiously useful product, and this small change in facial composition is immediately picked up for analysis by the Kinect sitting atop your television. The Kinect’s software then analyzes this gesture of displeasure both to ensure that in the future you are not shown this same ad (nor ads deemed suitably similar), and to let the creators of the ad know that it had little effect on the likelihood that you might purchase whatever product the spot was promoting.

In effect, your ad experience will be adjusted based on your mood and tastes.

As New Scientist points out, Microsoft has made claims in the past that it could use similar technology to tailor gaming experiences to personal tastes, but to date we have yet to see anything like that in the consumer space. Instead the Kinect peripheral has largely been a motion-capture camera that merely translates gestures into on-screen actions. Given the amount of money to be made by this new idea however, it seems quite likely that Microsoft would rush to implement Kinect-enabled mood recognition in its advertising plans as soon as possible, if only to gauge consumer reaction to any plans the company might have in the future.

That said, this technology is sure to raise issues of invasiveness. Though it’s a far cry from Microsoft setting up a direct video feed of each of its users, this is essentially real-time monitoring, and it seems quite likely that a good portion of Xbox 360 users would be less than thrilled to have a giant corporation spying on them every time they fire up their gaming machine. Then again, given the ubiquity of online, socially-enabled gaming systems these days, this kind of mood-recognition is less a giant leap forward in consumer eavesdropping and more an expected part of our impending future.

Likewise, it adds additional credence to the idea that George Orwell’s books are frighteningly prophetic (as if we needed further reminders).

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