Designed in 2 Minutes?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Big Brother is Watching You

According to BBC News people are much more likely to allow their private lives to be scrutinised by a computer system if they can associate that system with a real person.

People are naturally a little wary of Orwellian style 24-hour surveillance in their homes (I certainly wouldn't allow it) yet technology makers are keen to have systems which do exactly this.

However instead of reporting back to Big Brother these systems are supposed to analyse details such as when you normally get up to make breakfast, or when you might usually be out of the house. This might allow the system to switch lights and heating on in advance of when you wake up, or cycle lights in the house during weekend breaks to give the impression that the house is occupied.

Sounds pretty cool, but don't forget that your every move is being watched and recorded on camera... I bet you'll think twice before dancing around the kitchen with the mop next time.

One of the researchers into this type of system, Dr Richard Bowden, noted: "When we put the surveillance cameras in our centre, a lot of people were very unhappy about the fact that there was a system watching them".

Richard and his team have created an avatar (virtual face) which sits on a screen where the user can observe it. To add to the personality of the system, they even called it Jeremiah and refer to the system as "him". Jeremiah is interactive to a degree, and can react (by changing his facial patterns) to visual stimuli using camera systems, so he can smile when a person appears to be playing or skipping around, or appear sad if you leave the room, for example. Think Holly from Red Dwarf, only with a significantly smaller IQ and not quite as senile.

"But when Jeremiah's camera went in, nobody minded, because although it's still watching them, they could see what it was watching." said Dr Bowden.

Which just goes to show, if any would-be police state dictators are planning on rising up in the near future, pay close attention to HCI issues with your monitoring systems. It just might make the difference between peaceful world domination and bloody revolution.


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