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Japan Mistakes 1984 for a Brainstorming Session

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | May 31, 2011 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | May 31, 2011 |

Remember in 1984 how Orwell imagined televisions before there were televisions, and not only did they provide endless insipid entertainment, but they also watched the citizens for anything suspicious? I guess the only real surprise is that it took Japan this long to invent them.

It’s called UTAN (User Technology Assisted Navigation) which illustrates just how early in the development stage the product is, since it’s still got a name from an engineer instead of the PR ooze pond.

Basically, these things hook up a camera to a television and then integrate with the programming stream. It uses facial recognition software to interpret your emotional response to what you are watching as you watch it. Applications can then tailor the output to how you are feeling. The applications are as endless as they are useless to the actual end user. Targeted advertisements? This thing can make sure it plays ads conducive to your current mood. Kid getting freaked out by the horror movie his parents don’t know he’s watching? Software can switch to the PG cut in a beat. Too lazy to flip channels? The software can figure out from the nuance of your slack jaw which reality series would best tickle your reptile brain.

Look, there’s a thin line between helpful automatons and SkyNet. My TiVo doesn’t need to gaze upon my visage, searching for ways to please me. That’s what the thumbs up and thumbs down buttons are for, and I deploy them with the grave discrimination of a Roman emperor at the Coliseum. The fact that I watch “Nova” nude is not a datum that needs passed to my electronics, let alone studied in order to determine which light beer commercial would best sate my appetites between Neil deGrasse Tyson’s sonorous monologues.

This might not be too likely to get much traction in the television market, but what about online? A lot of those Hulu visitors already have webcams pointed at their faces while they watch, which gets past the initial hurdle of the product’s adoption. Actually, given that there have been hacks floating around on the web for some time allowing malicious sorts to turn on webcams even while disabling the status light of the camera, can we really be all that certain this isn’t already happening?

Or are you only seeing this article because the facial recognition software detected that you were gullible enough to have your interest piqued but not decisive enough to do anything about it?

(source: New Launches)

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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