Blown To Bits

Watching you at home

Monday, July 21st, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Google already knows what you’ve been looking for with its search engine, and whether you have a swimming pool in your backyard (and it will happily disclose the latter to anyone who wants to know — just use Google Earth). Now Google is toying with the idea of “activity recognition,” such as watching you eat. “Activity recognition systems unobtrusively observe the behavior of people and characteristics of their environments, and, when necessary, take actions in response — ideally with little explicit user direction.” So states a recent paper¬†by Google researcher Bill N. Schilit and two coauthors. Why would they want to do that? Well, to improve your health, for example.¬†”Information about household activities can even be used to recommend changes in behavior — for example, to reduce TV viewing and spend more time playing aerobic games on the Wii,” the paper suggests.

Lovely. An automated nag.

To be fair, home health care is a huge market, and it’s very costly to have people see physicians just to be told the same things about behavior modification every six months. If people want it, why not?

Well, what if it’s their insurance company that wants it, on pain of canceling their policy? Or the government that wants it, in exchange for a tax credit?

Health improvement is a good thing, but where does it stop?

And, of course, there are all the usual questions about the bits: who gets them, how could they be repurposed, and what if they leak.

Thanks to Information Week for its nice summary story on this.

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