OK. I have some mixed feelings about this one. Let's see what you think.
Verizon has filed for a patent for technology that will allow their set-top boxes to monitor a room and use that information to select appropriate advertising. The device will monitor audio, some level of visual and mobile device access. Here are some quotes from the application. I've tried to keep the blocks of text in context, but highlight what I felt was relevant in that section.
" To illustrate, an exemplary ambient action may include the user eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, performing any other suitable action, and/or engaging in any other physical activity during the presentation of the media content. In certain examples, the ambient action may include an interaction by the user with another user (e.g., another user physically located in the same room as the user). To illustrate, the ambient action may include the user talking to, cuddling with, fighting with, wrestling with, playing a game with, competing with, and/or otherwise interacting with the other user. In further examples, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a separate media content access device (e.g., a media content access device separate from the media content access device presenting the media content). For example, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a mobile device (e.g., a mobile phone device, a tablet computer, a laptop computer, etc.) during the presentation of a media content program by a set-top box ("STB") device.
 In some examples, detection facility 104 may determine, based on data received by way of a detection device, that a user is holding and/or interacting with a mobile device. For example, detection facility 104 may determine that the user is sitting on a couch and interacting with a tablet computer during the presentation of a television program being presented by a STB device. In some examples, detection facility 104 may be configured to communicate with the mobile device in order to receive data indicating what the user is doing with the mobile device (e.g., data indicating that the user is utilizing the mobile device to browse the web, draft an email, review a document, read an e-book, etc.) and/or representative of content that the user is interacting with (e.g., representative of one or more web pages browsed by the user, an email drafted by the user, a document reviewed by the user, an e-book read by the user, etc.).
 Access device 402 may be configured to present a media content program by way of display device 404. For example, access device 402 may be configured to present a television program including one or more advertisement breaks by way of display device 404 for experiencing by one or more users within detection zone 408. During the presentation of the television program, access device 402 may be configured to utilize detection device 406 to detect an ambient action of a user watching the television program. To illustrate, access device 402 may detect, by way of detection device 406, that two users are cuddling on a couch during the presentation of the television program and prior to an advertisement break. Based on the detected ambient action, access device 402 and/or a corresponding server device (e.g., implemented by provider subsystem 202) may select an advertisement associated with the ambient action. In some examples, access device 402 and/or the corresponding server device may utilize one or more terms associated with the detected ambient action (e.g., in accordance with a corresponding reference table) to search for and/or select an advertisement associated with the detected ambient action. To illustrate, access device 402 and/or the corresponding server device may utilize one or more terms associated with cuddling (e.g., the terms "romance," "love," "cuddle," "snuggle," etc.) to search for and/or select a commercial associated with cuddling (e.g., a commercial for a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers, a commercial including a trailer for an upcoming romantic comedy movie, etc.). Thereafter, access device 402 may present the selected advertisement by way of display device 404 during the advertisement break for experiencing by the users.
So, there you go. Several articles on the Internet have referred to this technology as "spying", and I can certainly see where they have a point. I think some paranoia in this area are probably justified. However, one of the things that we seem to desire is technology that will interact with us more directly, help us to find what we want and deliver what we need. Star Trek computers and Azimov robots all had senses and made decisions based on what they saw and heard. They were always at the ready and seemed to have instant access to the necessary information. In order to do that we will need devices that can be silent observers.
Of course, the alarming part of this is that the device must report its information to some sort of server in order to make sense of it. There is no avoiding that with our current technology. It's a "big data" question and right now that means big, remote computing power. Ideally this sort of technology would all be completely anonymous. Your set-top box would regard you passively and disinterestedly, like a family iron. Without much effort on your part you would be introduced to the news and entertainment that was just right for you at the moment. You would see ads for things that you actually wanted to learn about. Your media device would be a helpful information companion for the whole family. I suppose that's possible.
However, my experience with this sort of help in the past is that it tends to be a little overeager. My inbox is flooded with things that seemed like a good idea at the time. My personality causes me to have levels of duality at times where I may want to deal with contrasting ideas at the same time... for example have something exciting running on the television while I also tinker with something that might seem more cerebral. Contraceptive ads popping up while you're cuddling on the couch could be a great disturbance in what is typically a deligate process of silent negotiation.
Also, would the people who had that information so tantalizingly near have the discipline to not try to grab some of it and try to dig a little deeper, a little faster. Would there be a temptation to get a salesman to call? Would law enforcement start demanding to tap into these things? (I know. If you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide... but there is a reason why we don't all live together naked in a big giant room.)
Oh, and before you rail against Verizon, this is apparently not the first exploration of such technology. According to this fudzilla article previous evolutions of this concept have been patented by Comcast and Google. So, what do you think?
I'm intrigued at the possibility of having technology that is more responsive to what I want, when I want it. There could be some benefit to that, if it is geared toward my needs and not the needs of someone who has to make a sales quota. Is this a treasure chest or is it Pandora's box? Is this something to be fought, or will this adapt into our lives like all of the other technology we have adopted over time?
Also, on developerWorks
Here are a few fresh things worth looking at on developerWorks:
- Ian Shields gives us a 2-fer with a pair of updates in the Linux Professional Institute test prep articles. First is "Boot managers: Introducing GRUB, GRUB 2, and LILO" – a look at the mysterious world of getting your operating system to load. There are actually a lot of interesting things that you can do with boot managers if you understand them. This is a grest start. Second is "Create partitions and filesystems:Divide and conquer your disk space" an overview of partitioning and why it matters. On your laptop you probably don't need to care too much about different partitions. On a server, however, good partition management can spell the difference between a reliable system and one that dies because some file got out out of hand and ate the disk space.
- In Real World Linux there is an interesting entry about Aakash2, a super-cheap tablet developed in India. This won't be your "power gadget", but such a commodity-level device could make a big difference in getting technology into the hands of everyone who could use it. I admit that I'd like to get my hands on one. At that price, maybe I will.
Look at some of the interesting things coming in the POWER Linux arena with the blog entry "Introducing "