Microsoft files patent to record and score meetings on body language

Technology giant Microsoft has filed a patent for a system to monitor employees’ body language and facial expressions during work meetings and give the events a “quality score”, according to a news report on the BBC website.

It envisions rooms being packed with sensors to monitor the participants – sparking a debate about pros and cons around employer accountability and privacy.

Companies do not always make use of patents they register.

But they often reveal ideas in development before they appear in commercial products.

Details of the “meeting-insight computing system” were filed in July, ahead of being made public this month.

They say the sensors could record:

  • which invitees actually attend a meeting
  • attendees’ body language and facial expressions
  • the amount of time each participant spent contributing to the meeting
  • speech patterns “consistent with boredom [and] fatigue”

They also suggest employees’ mobile devices could be used to monitor whether they were simultaneously engaged in other tasks – such as texting or browsing the internet – as well as to check their schedule to take into account whether they had had to attend other meetings the same day.

All that information would then be combined with other factors, such as “how efficient the meeting was, an emotional sentiment expressed by meeting participants, [and] how comfortable the meeting environment was”, into an “overall quality score”, Microsoft says.

The patent also suggests the technology could be used to identify problems that can make meetings ineffectual.

For example, if too many people were packed into a room or if the location becomes uncomfortably hot in the afternoon sun.

“Many organisations are plagued by overly long, poorly attended, and recurring meetings that could be modified and/or avoided if more information regarding meeting quality was available,” the patent says.

Over the top employee surveillance or a force for good? The debate will only presumably grow as technology develops even further.