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Marking Every Move - Google's Home Automation Patent

Imagine living in a home surrounded by devices ready to track every little move you make. I’m talking about every little detail that is physically noticeable to the human eye - ranging from the print on your t-shirt, to what you had for dinner on the weekend. Believe you me, this is not a CIA operation we’re talking about, but an actual patent by Google that describes a home automation system, that will suggest or automatically implement household policies on sensed observations. Think of it like that one time you wanted to buy shoes online, and after a few searches, all you could see were shoe ads everywhere. This new patent however, takes things to the next level, and consequently isn’t as straight forward.

In the first Patent, Google talks about devices that would scan and analyze the interior of your place, and then reciprocate by offering you content based on what they discovered. A smart camera for instance could detect the presence of a movie poster on the wall, that directly points towards your liking of that film or the actors in it. Responding to this observation, the device will provide you information regarding any upcoming movie of a similar genre.

Besides the more obvious inferences, the device tries to delve into factors that help it connect with the user more intimately. Take fashion sense for example. This device can scan your clothing and even deduce how good you are financially by detecting the presence of any expensive piece of equipment at your place. Audio signatures used to identify users, can also help determine gender and age based on the timbre of their voice.This information is then piled up into categories of taste, income, and interest, which helps in making recommendations that are pertinent.

This whole concept of being under surveillance at all times may seem intrusive, but it’s something that has been in effect since a long time now. Google and Facebook take note of our online activity and sort people into categories. This helps them decide the appropriate content to be targeted at their audience. It’s believable that Facebook knows your race and religion, while Google uses your emails and search history to sort you into ad-ready brackets. Netflix on the other hand derives information based on the kind of content users watch, and reciprocates by providing hyper-specific movie and TV categories. This new patent shall just expand the horizon for mining your behavior further.

The second patent suggests a smart-home system that would serve as your household companion by using sensors and cameras that monitor kids’ behavior. Parents could be made aware if there’s usage of foul language among children, and determine if there are instances where mature and objectionable content has been surfed on the internet. Besides that, occupancy sensors can be used to mark areas that are out of bound for children- Like the house bar, or even the swimming pool. There could be a smart lighting system used to alert children if they are caught breaking the house rules, by changing the lighting scheme.

An automation system this efficient makes it easier to set goals, and more importantly help you stay on track. It also opened gates for companies that evaluate home behavior and consequently offer rewards if you do well. Internal goals can be set by the household to achieve desirable living standards which could include “less time on any kind of screen”, or “low calorie diet for 1 week”. Accordingly, Google devices could connect you with vendors or third party apps that would help evaluate your progress.

Health Insurance companies have started partnering with companies and reward employees who meet certain fitness standards. Landlords could use occupancy sensors to keep a track of who comes and goes, or keep a check on their pet if they’re away. Life-insurance companies can also penalize smokers caught on camera.

For a reward system to work efficiently the devices would have to be functional at all times, taking note of even the minutest of details. As much as it’s intriguing, it’s also scary how much information can be revealed from mere auditory inferences. The smart home system can detect if an individual is working, from an audio signature of keyboard clicking or papers shuffling. It doesn’t stop there. The smart home system can make inferences on your mood if it hears voices of crying or shouting. It can also assess your dental hygiene based on the sounds and images it collects while you brush your teeth.

Clearly, this patent is bound to raise questions, if only for the fact that people would eventually have to choose between convenience and invasion of privacy. This patent sure promises to shape modern living standards, but whether people would be willing to go ahead with it, still remains to be seen.

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