Microsoft "spyware" for monitoring activities?
According to a report in The Times, the patent, which was last month published by the U.S. Patent Office after an 18-month filing period, describes a monitoring system that would enable computers to wirelessly pick up on a user's heart rate, galvanic skin response, brain signals, body temperature, facial movements and expressions, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
Although the sense of this sentient system would seem to be to provide nefarious means for employers to spy on employees, the patent describes a more empathic rationale. Detecting frustration by mapping biorhythmic changes against profiles corresponding to employee's weight, age, and health, the system would gently nudge managers to conduct a quick, how-are-we-doing-today pop in -- certain to ensure further off-chart trajectories for the monitored biorhythms that alerted the system in the first place.
The Times of India emphasized the aspect of monitoring employee PRODUCTIVITY:
Microsoft is developing software that may help employers to monitor the productivity, competence and physical well-being of employees while sitting at a distance.
The software will even reveal when an employee is stressed or frustrated by reading his/her heartbeat and facial expressions.
A patent application filed by the company reveals that the whole process will be based on a computer system that links workers to their computers through wireless sensors that measures their metabolism.
The system will be able to measure workers' heart rate, body temperature, brain signals, movement, facial expression and blood pressure.
However, civil liberties groups and privacy lawyers are criticising this project, voicing concerns that it may lead to employees’ dismissal on the basis of a computers assessment of their physiological state.
Ina Fried of CNET News got into a different angle:
Microsoft's patent push is stimulated by a number of factors. One is competition and trying to make sure that Microsoft's rivals don't get access to key innovations. However, the company also began a broad intellectual-property licensing push several years ago, under which it licenses technology to many companies big and small. The company has signed a slew of patent cross-licensing deals since then, the most recent being Tuesday's deal with Japan's JVC.
A number of Microsoft's recently published patent applications cover search and advertising, areas in which Microsoft is investing a lot as it tries to play catch-up with Google. There are so many of these, I'll save them for a separate post, but recent filings cover things such as creating a spot market for video ads, and creating marketing that uses a combination of video and banner advertisements.
IPBiz notes that Microsoft simultaneously has a "patent push" (for Microsoft) and "complaints about patents" (of those other than Microsoft).
Microsoft has published application 20070300174 (MONITORING GROUP ACTIVITIES ) the first claim of which is
An activity monitoring system that facilitates managing and optimizing user activity automatically to improve overall user productivity and efficiency comprising:a monitoring component that can monitor user activity conducted on one or more computing devices; andan activity management component which can process and evaluate user activity data to assess user performance on their respective activities and the current allocation of system and human resources.
Paragraph 62 notes: The method 800 involves continuously monitoring user activity at 810. At 820, the method can detect that a user (target user) needs assistance with his activity (target activity). Detection for assistance can be implicit or explicit. For example, various physiological sensors can detect stress or frustration (e.g., elevated blood pressure, heart rate, or respiration rate). Alternatively or in addition, a time monitor can detect that the user has exceeded the recommended or allotted time to complete the activity (or a sub-part thereof). Otherwise, the user can expressly request assistance such as through clicking a button, sending a message, or making a call. Because user activity is continuously monitored at 810, the method 800 can locate at least one assisting user for the target user at 830.
IPBiz infers that the Times of India may have been more "on the money" here. This is application 11/426818.
Separately, note paragraph 73 of US published application 20070299949 says: A person's contact information creates a relationship between people--this contact information is a resource. Rich information about a person, e.g., brain waves, heart rate, respiration rate, galvanic skin response, environmental data, is interesting data about the person which can be interrelated. As well, all of this information can have a relationship with an activity.
As a general matter, Microsoft has published application 20070299795, titled CREATING AND MANAGING ACTIVITY-CENTRIC WORKFLOW, the first claim of which is
A system that facilitates management of an activity-centric workflow, comprising:an interface component that accesses information related to an activity; anda workflow processing component that analyzes the information and establishes a workflow related to at least a subset of the information.
Claims 19 and 20 are
19. A system that facilitates management of an activity-centric workflow, comprising:means for accessing activity information;means for analyzing the activity information;means for dynamically establishing a plurality of activity-centric workflow components from at least a subset of the activity information; andmeans for generating the activity-centric workflow based at least in part upon a subset of the plurality of activity-centric workflow components.
20. The system of claim 19, further comprising means for monitoring a plurality of sources to identify the activity information.
One also has published application 20080005053, the first claim of which is
A system that responds to human communications, comprising:a recognition component that dynamically monitors communications for an apparent intent related to a task; anda task component that receives, at least in part, an apparent intent from the recognition component and associates it with a task to form a candidate task for prompting a user.
In a different vein, note text from US published application 20070118043 :
 Conventionally, an individual often needs to seek the input of a human personal trainer to achieve the individual's exercising goals. The use of a human personal trainer can be expensive and inconvenient. For example, besides paying the human personal trainer, the individual needs to take the human personal trainer along during an exercising routine. Therefore, it is desirable to provide a means allowing a person to achieve his or her exercising goals during an exercising routine without the aid of a human personal trainer.
 In addition, music has been part of the exercise routines for many people. Research has identified positive effects of music on exercise performance. For example, different studies agree that music positively influences users' exercise endurance, performance perception, and perceived exertion levels. The reasons proposed to explain such positive effects include that music provides a pacing advantage and a form of distraction from the exercise, that music boosts the moods of users and raises the confidence and self-esteem of the users, and that music motivates users to exercise more. It is therefore desirable to take advantage of the positive effects of music in exercise performance to enable users to more easily achieve their exercise goals.
 It is not surprising, therefore, that music has increasingly become part of the exercise routines of more and more people. In particular, in recent years, MP3 players and heart-rate monitors are becoming increasingly pervasive when people exercise, especially when they are walking, running, or jogging outdoors. For example, it has been common in the community of runners to prepare a "running music playlist" to help runners in their training schedules. A runner may even develop a script that creates a running music playlist in which music pieces stop and start at time intervals to indicate when to switch from running to walking without the runner having to check a watch.
 However, none of the existing systems directly exploits the effects of music on human physiology during physical activities in an adaptive and real-time manner. The existing systems and prototypes developed so far usually operate in a one-way fashion. That is, they deliver a pre-selected set of music in a specific order. In some cases, they might independently monitor the user's heart rate, but they do not include feedback about the user's state of performance to affect the music update. Therefore, it is desirable to provide a means that monitors a user's physiology and movements and selects music for the user accordingly.
 While specific disadvantages of existing practices have been illustrated and described in this Background Section, those skilled in the art and others will recognize that the subject matter claimed herein is not limited to any specific implementation for solving any or all of the described disadvantages.
 This summary is provided to introduce a selection of concepts in a simplified form that are further described below in the Detailed Description. This summary is not intended to identify key features of the claimed subject matter, nor is it intended to be used as an aid in determining the scope of the claimed subject matter.
 Aspects of the invention provide a system (hereafter "MPTrain") that utilizes the positive influences of music in exercise performance to help a user more easily achieve the user's exercising objectives.
 One aspect of the invention implements MPTrain as a mobile and personal system that a user can wear while exercising, such as walking, jogging, or running. Such an exemplary MPTrain may include both a hardware component and a software component. The hardware component may include a computing device that a user can carry or wear while exercising. Such a computing device can be a small device such as a mobile phone, a personal digital assistant ("PDA"), a watch, etc. The hardware component may further include a number of physiological and environmental sensors that can be connected to the computing device through a communication network such as a wireless network.
 The software component in the exemplary MPTrain may allow a user to enter a desired workout in terms of desired heart-rate stress over time. The software component may assist the user in achieving the desired exercising goals by (1) constantly monitoring the user's physiology (e.g., heart rate in number of beats per minute) and movement (e.g., pace in number of steps per minute), and (2) selecting and playing music with specific features that will guide the user towards achieving the desired exercising goals. The software component may use algorithms that identify and correlate features (e.g., energy, beat or tempo, and volume) of a music piece, the user's current exercise level (e.g., running speed, pace or gait), and the user's current physiological response (e.g., heart rate).