back to article Microsoft readies Hal 9000

It gives a whole new meaning to the word "micromanager." Judging from a recent patent application, Microsoft hopes to build some sort of "activity monitoring system" that keeps an eye on worker productivity using various "physiological or environmental sensors." These sensors would track everything from heart rate, respiration …


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  1. supermeerkat

    at least you know where you stand with HAL...

    ...and if he reports problems with the AE35 antennae, don't go, or if you really feel the need for a look don't go first, and remember your helmet!

  2. Ryan

    Welcome to the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre

    If at first you don't succeed, you fail; and the test will be terminated.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Aperture Science

    Failure will result in a low mark being awarded, and death.

  4. Ole Juul

    Church of MS

    We've come a long way since two tin cans wired to a galvanometer.

  5. Joseph Helenihi

    I'm sorry Dave...

    but I now sense something in you that makes it necessary to terminate your noncomplicit meatware existence. This will be done to preserve the perfection of my preprogramed operating parameters that seek to encourage proper meatware inputs and behaviour with the HAL 9000 system.

    The first orange spacesuit and matching helmet on the rack is mine, and I'll take escape pod number 2, thanks.

  6. b shubin

    Cause and effect

    individuals who suspect they are under surveillance, usually exhibit elevated stress, which will lead to more surveillance, and more stress, etc.

    this is the usual MS approach: given an absence of problems, create some, then impose ineffective solutions that require constant tweaking.

    if only they used that money to make better software...

  7. Martin Huizing

    I can see it now:

    BSOD with:

    "I'm sorry User, I'm afraid I can't do that."

    Friday already!?

  8. Kurt Faasse

    you'll look sweet upon the seat . . .

    Yes, at least David Bowman knew where the key was to pull all those memory blocks. Someone, please find Microsoft's key.

  9. Gary

    Come back Winston Smith!

    I love this drivel! Just how many people do these sad gits think are going to allow themselves to be wired up like latter day Steve Austins. (Who's an old git then?) I can see it now. Production lines of wired in prolls and offices full of same. Get up to go, and watch them all crash down like Tony Blairs chances of re-election, having got entagled in each others leads! Coffee in Room 101 anyone?


  10. Simon Smillie

    Oh, there's a bug...

    So, it'll be fully operational after service pack 2 then?

    How will it measure the stress of the managers who implement it, when they discover they have next to know stats because the thing is always crashing?

    And finally, will it run on Linux?

  11. Gerrit Tijhof
    Black Helicopters


    Funny how '1984' comes to mind, when something from '2001' is mentioned in the article.

  12. Tuomo Stauffer

    Oh, that's why

    I was wondering why MS employees were walking around with all these gadgets, they were monitored for productivity! A great idea but a little late, all the robots in assembly lines are already monitored, at least in manufacturing where I have visited. It is great that humans evolve to the level of robots but where do they find programmers unethical enough to write system to run any monitoring programs? On other hand, maybe not so difficult in current state of employment? Happy New Year all!

  13. Lol Whibley

    anybody read

    Snow Crash?

    Neal stephenson had it as the FBI stress testing their employees. i wonder if he can claim prior copyright on the idea?

    A patent of this sort is mostly speculative fiction and staking out the IP turf ahead of the game..

    Still, i wonder how they plan to incorporate the hardware that doea the testing..

  14. Geoff Mackenzie

    Monitoring users' stress and frustration ...

    On the plus side, it might finally convince MS that we don't like the Office Assistant ...

    Oh, and Re running on Linux; no need, everyone knows us Linux users are as calm as Hindu cows.

  15. Sampler
    Gates Horns


    Surely the act of monitoring users stress will affect the outcome?

  16. Steve

    Pharmaceutical opportunity?

    All of the effects they want to measure are caused by chemical changes, which can be induced by more than just work/stress etc. I can see it now, dubious characters hanging round the pub "Hey Guv, want to buy eight hours of 'hard work'? Or I can do a great deal on three days of 'over stressed', if you need a sickie for the big match."

  17. Steve

    Thats it...

    I've had enough, I'm leaving, IT is getting too creepy, and being a M$ product it sounds like an impossibility to install, prolly integrates with MOSS as well? Arrrgghhhhh!!!!

  18. Wyrmhole

    The new Office Assistant

    "It looks like you are watching porn. Would you like assistance with it?"

  19. TeeCee Gold badge
    Gates Horns

    I'm sorry Bill.....

    ....I can't do that.

    Right, now to depressurise his office.

  20. Mage

    Tech available now

    All the monitoring gear is available now in a small package connected via wireless to logging.

    This is just using yesterday's logging tech interactively.

  21. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What's the problem, people ?

    After all, it'll only work under Vista, of course, which no corporation in its right mind is using anyway.

    Besides, it's a Microsoft product, meaning it will be so buggy and make everything else crash so often Helpdesk people will suffer extreme depression every Monday morning.

    The network will be bogged down in "phone-home" requests, the phone system will be overloaded by people trying to contact the Helpdesk, reschedule appointments and call the medics.

    Frankly, I can't see this new gadget surviving any longer than Bob did, and Bob hardly had the amount of possible anti-constitutional lawsuits that this thing does.

    First Vista, now this. I wonder if Ballmer isn't actually trying to run Microsoft to the ground ?

  22. andy
    Thumb Up


    Maybe it will administer you a coffee at exactly the point in the afternoon when you start to lag. Ideal!

  23. Keith T

    monitors things like "frustration and stress." -2

    Frustration and stress -- hmm, we are talking about an M$ product here, aren't we? Right, so the programme will provide the benchmark for itself to start with and will detect levels of stress and frustration thus proving that it works and is well worth the money.

    If nowt else it will keep the beancounters happy as it will be the first M$ product they've paid for that actually does what it says on the tin.

    (Not that there will be any spare processing or memory to run anything else.)

  24. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Money to burn

    MS must have money to burn if they thought this was worth the patent fee.

    Let's see now. There's a system monitoring both me and what I'm doing. It sees me getting stuck. It knows where I can find help with the problem. So why the fuck doesn't it just do my job for me?

    Oh, it can't. It isn't omniscient. That "help" that it thinks I need probably isn't going to help. It will simply distract, reduce my productivity and then I'd get the blame for the wasted time. Ah, that wouldn't be so useful then.

    So MS have patented a device that allows PHBs to drive all the smart employees out of the business, leaving only the morons who are willing to put up with a stress sensor stuck up their bottom. Hmm, I can see the royalties just pouring in.

  25. Bo Pedersen

    well that would put and end to me reading El Reg

    As soon as my browser starts and my face starts to smile

    my P45 would be emailed to me :)

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft Agent

    Microsoft Agent? Well anything's better than that annoying paper clip.

    Onscreen prompt:

    "You appear to have left your desk for longer than the allocated lunch period and smell of alcohol. Would you like help completing your timesheet? Please be aware that I will flag your input should your skin response indicate that you are lying when you complete it."

    Management report:

    "Jenkins exhibits elevated stress levels every time that Julie from legal services is at his desk. I notice that you, as manager, exhibit the same response. Please press [delete] if you wish to terminate this employee's contract, or press [insert] to send an electric shock to Jenkin's keyboard".

    As a manager, I have to ask:

    1. How soon can I buy this? Gimme Gimme Gimme!

    2. Can it also link into company mobiles so I can spy on my employees on the road and at home?

    3. Will anyone work for my company after I install it? (Will the employees even know it is there?)

    4. Will this breach any of those pesky human rights or privacy laws, or do I have to move my business to the Guantanamo bay area?

    5. Does it come with an SDK, so I can be more "creative"?

    P.S. Jenkins - if you're reading this - you're fired.

  27. Dean

    More importantly..

    Can it read lips?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    time and motion

    wouldnt it be esier to see if someone is skiving by cheking there internet usage?

    or, use the "suss" test we use at work, if anyone seems to be working a bit too hard, is beng a bit too quiet and concentrating a bit too hard at that screen then they are probably surfing the web and trying to keep thier heads down!

    as nothing that is done at work is that interesting *

    *unless you work on a MAC in which case your quite happy to stare and ponder the magnificence of a blue LED all day and wonder if there is a god?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mr Johnson

    Mr Johnson you seem to be suffering from unhappiness, Government Happiness technicians are at your door now to take you away for thearpy.

    Becouse every public place should have one to detect both people in need and potential terrorists. It's for your own good. The Fatherland is here to protect you.

    Every government in the west will want one, and they'll pour money into it like nobodies business.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "detect when users need assistance with their specific activities"

    FFS surely if you are struggling you shout "Hoi, I can't get this b******d thing to work, give us a hand mate."

    So instead of investing all that cash in this crap why don't they come up with something useful, like advanced sensors to minimise dead-time at traffic lights.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe not so ominous, it is.

    Sounds like an aid to MS's game testing.

  32. Garrett

    Clip IT

    Looks like Microsoft never did get rid of that Paper Clip in MS Office! They made a bionic Clipit - Stronger, Faster, More Intelligent, and still a big pain in the A$$.

  33. Andrew Baines Silver badge

    Could be useful

    If all they want to do is test the UI of software - much easier than all those questionnaires and cameras watching users.

    As with all this stuff, depends upon what you use it for.

  34. Sam

    take a stress pill..

    "Steve? Put down the chair, Steve..."

  35. Steven Guenther

    Tinfoil gloves

    Now add tinfoil gloves to the tinfoil hat crew.

  36. Malboeuf

    Adaptable to government work?

    If this did come with an SDK then it could be modified to add more water when the towel dries out, or if the "employee" is not demonstrating enough stress in their resipratory cycle. It would also need some sort of system for disposing of video captures of the workday's "productivity". There's nothing like the promise of a lucrative government to bring out the creativity in people.

    I think "Richard"head Cheney might be very interested in this product.


  37. Colin Millar

    Does it have standard phrases built in?


    "Your attitude to corporate policy needs updating - please download and run Windows Genuine Attitude"

    "Put the hammer on the ground and step away from the server rack"

    And when all else fails:

    "Windows has detected an illegal operation and you will be terminated - unsaved changes may be lost"

  38. b166er

    Bring it on

    If it means the more diligent among us get paid more.

    It will never happen for that reason, won't get many reward points for working on your backswing.

    Still, it would be nice to work in a society where you get paid more for the more work you do, rather than the expert way you can crawl up anothers bottom

  39. Spearbox

    Hmmm... breakdown pending

    If this thing works, it'll bring down offices, schools, houses and signal the breakdown of society as we know it. No doubt apple will register something almost like it and actually use PR to make everyone want one in their homes...

    Anyhow, picture it. The below will probably send all the sensors haywire....

    - Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman!"

    - Chua Soi Lek (Malaysian PM): "I did not have sexual relations with that woman!"

    - George Bush: "Iraq are building and harbouring WMDs!"

    - Copyboy: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman!"

    - World of Warcraft Player: "I did have sexual relations with that woman!"

    - Husband: "I was over at Fred's havin a beer"

  40. Mark


    pass me the soma please

  41. Michael Jarve

    It is Microsoft, afterall...

    So it probably won't work anyways. Or it will work, but just not in a way entirely consistent with the patent description.

  42. jai

    @ Lol Whibley

    strangely enough i was thinking of Snow Crash too

    >Still, i wonder how they plan to incorporate the hardware that doea the testing..

    you can picture the scene as this is rolled out can't you:

    "Monitoring my acitivty? Well you can take your monitoring probes and you can shove them...."

    "Actually sir, that's exactly what we were going to do. Bend over please"

  43. Herby

    BOFH time...

    Must find out how to reverse those skin resistance measurements. Not enough current for accurate measurement, so increase the voltage. Bzzzzzart.. maybe that was a bit much, eh. Oh well we didn't need that beancounter/boss anyway.

    We now return you to your normal activities. Carry on, nothing to see here, please move on.

  44. Snert Lee

    Not a Patent Application

    They just mis-routed the process documentation for the Contractor Productivity Monitoring Tool.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    This isn't my idea

    Someone else had the idea of using one billionth scale technology to monitor humans blood flow in a loop.

    Placed anywhere it has access to blood, it pumps or allows it to flow through a batch of sensors monitoring for alcohol, drugs etc. Very useful for placing on lorry/truck drivers, commercial piolts etc.

    It should be impossible to fool, and provide constant readings, powered by the blood flow itself through a tirbine possibly. This would mean 24/365 monitoring of the subject including periods where they were not operating machinery. It could be queried every time they are near the machinery to check what was in their blood. This would also cover drugs that metabolise inside the body such as GHB or GHL which are very hard to detect.

    By operating as a tiny tiny extra loop in the subject sampling would be constant. Apart from workers, medical conditions would probably be the first use, and the technology is very simple in a nanoscale sense, just the sensors and memory would need to be completed.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    OH NO!! HAL is here already!

    I would recommend that you check to make sure that you do not have HAL.dll in your Windows system32 folder. If it is there, you should delete it right away, and fix your computer by inserting an Ubuntu CD, and selecting the install option.

    (Linux & OS-X users need not worry)

  47. Chad H.

    he return of clippy?

    it appears you're having a work related stroke, would you like some assistance?

  48. John F***ing Stepp

    Biometric scanners say I am non-existent now.

    So calibration will be a bitch.

    I guess my first thought would be how do I hack it so it reports me at my desk and productive (bunch'o paid vacation) then I realized that the firm I work for wouldn't even spring for the software if it existed.

    However, I might as well start flowcharting virtual peon 1.0 right now; given Micro$ofts track record I might only have 10 years or so before this hits the shelf.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    MS doc properties

    Does anyone else check the properties of MS docs they receive? Always makes interesting reading as it will grass-up the author of that late report / documentation / specification etc by giving you interesting stats. Such as when the doc was created (day after the deadline) how much time was spent editing it ( not nearly as much as on the bloke's time sheet) and who the actual author was ( not the person who was pretending to write it ) amongst other things...

    This is also why I never create a word doc from scratch, I always make a copy of an existing doc file from ages ago and then edit that one, thus inheriting the stats from the original. Better still, i send the customer a PDF copy ;o)

  50. Ray Simard
    Gates Horns

    "...I"m half crazy..."

    >>>> Yes, at least David Bowman knew where the key was to pull all those memory blocks. Someone, please find Microsoft's key. <<<<

    Unlike Bowman, you cannot disconnect parts of the system selectively because it's all integrated with the OS. HAL has learned a new song:

    "All, or nothing at all..."

  51. Dennis
    Thumb Down

    "lie detector" quasi-science

    Did anyone else notice that the same argument for biological metrics is used for polygraph machines? There is a reason polygraph tests are not used in U.S. courts for proof of guilt or innocence. Can we expect the same benefit from a company's management when HAL provides a false positive or negative reading?

  52. alistair millington
    Thumb Down

    But remember

    It will also detect the unhappiness of all users when they use M$ products and pleasure when they finish. Would that be reported?

    But as it is an M$ product it won't work, will complain if the user uses a different operating system, wlil be bloated, take up too much CPU to run constantly etc etc. and probably report it all back to redmond via the WGA tool.

  53. Jon

    Just you wait ...

    Until they roll out Homo Sapien Sapien v1.1.

    All this is to do with the simple fact that there is no 'standard' human, no one human will act like another human consistently enough for any current forecast tool to be effective, and these forecast tools are being used to work out how much money a certain thing will make. It's the bottom line, everything else can be calculated to within an inch of it's life, we humans keep on breaking the mould. Just as soon as they get the genetic engineering right, they roll out the upgrade and it will be 'Game Over' folks, at least until the next load of natures children get up to speed ...

    Me ? I'll see you all on Europa.

  54. kain preacher

    federal law

    In the states an employer can not give a polygraph or lie detector test to you . CIA FBI NSA and jobs of nationals ecurity are exempt

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