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Microsoft has filed a patent for a system that monitors the behavior of employees via computers, phone calls, and physical gestures, and alerts human resources if anyone is behaving outside of preferred norms. The patent describes how an increase in an employee’s trust in the boss is the equivalent to a pay rise, so to promote …
Any boss who used this system (or even thought it up) would be proving beyond any remaining doubt that they are indeed really that distrustful of other people, including their own employees. It would provide absolute final proof on a scale no one could use lies to cover up.
The thing is, I wouldn't want to work for any boss like this and I hope everyone would feel the same way. In which case, the distrustful bosses would find it hard to get and keep employees and so their businesses would suffer as a result. (It would also destroy all staff moral of anyone who tried to stay with that kind of boss, so it wouldn't work). It would mean these bosses would be putting themselves and their businesses at a competitive disadvantage in the market place. Which is good news, because it would result in some of their businesses failing, which would push more money in the direction of good companies that considered employee moral and treated employees like human beings.
Its a good thing for society that the bad bosses finally highlight themselves as embittered, embattled, endlessly scheming, self-interested Narcissists as a warning to everyone to stay away from them. Let their businesses fail and then maybe, finally, they will seek some help they badly need, for their Narcissistic Personality Disorders. Which would leave the rest of us to build better lives for our families, without suffering the abuses of these bosses endlessly increasing control freak tyranny.
There is lots of prior art here.
In any case, regarding the el-reg punchline about punching the boss. You may game a computer system, you cannot game an organisation's system to find a reason to abuse employees and pay them less. So in real life you will suddenly find that you did not have enough brownie points to punch the boss in the face (or harrass him and make him look like an idiot at all hands).
Been there, done that in an organisation which has similar system of assessment (just not automated) and is _PROUD_ of it.
Who controls the hardware this is running on? Who installs it, configures and maintains it?
Completely stupid idea in general though. If ever implemented, I suspect it will be about as effective as stats logging on the telephone system is. Which I might note, is not very. That just measures the speed of response and doesn't measure the quality of response.
Effective line management is far cheaper, and can also address issues with junior staff engaging in appropriate behaviour through a range of effective remedies starting with the good old fashioned managers glare, and progressing through polite chats to formal disciplinary meetings actually addressing the problems. Meanwhile, this fancy gadget can presumably only log a performance alert with HR.
Hmm, yes we do appear to have a difficult choice here.
1. An Orwellian high-tech approach that stands every chance of creating far more problems than it solves.
2. Succeeding in getting line managers to do their jobs in a consistent and constructive fashion.
Hmm.....that's a toughie, approach #1 is nightmare city, whilst at the same time #2 does seem raaather ambitious.
Once upon a time, I worked on a contract at AT&T. For legitimate reasons, someone there put certain tracking software on certain workstations and confirmed a suspicion about someone getting into financial systems where they didn't belong. Using someone else's workstation.
That this involved a contracting company associated with the Enron fiasco will surprise no one who ever dealt with them or their IT consulting spinoff, may they rot in bureaucratic hell.
Much of this is already DOABLE:
Ip phones (vice analog phones)
browers logs (how much of your off-break time is on work-related surfing)
firewall logs (going to naughty places or attracting nuisances?)
access card readers (work start/finish times)
premises cams (are you allowing tailgaters/are you speeding through the parking lot?)
And so on.
The bit about recordign hand gestures/body language is over the top. WAY too invasive and subjective.
How the frack would this system rate Stephen Hawking?
Slurs, drools, nods, grimmaces, and doesn't have a natural-sounding voice. Gets around too slowly and is a drain on escort duties of limited staff. Needs help getting out of own chair and unable to feed nor discharge self of fresh and procesed foods.
What a asinine sytstem for which an asinine patent may be issued.
It's one thing to produce such systems from scratch or buy them. It's a nasty, stupid ball of wax to allow a patent on something that is obvious and doable in ANY office that wants to go this far. If it is a DEFENSIVE patent, so that NOBODY (even msoft) can obstruct ANYONE implementing such a system, fine. But, if it is a gate-keeping attempt by ms to dole out licenses and obstruct others, hell no. I've been making a database-based performance system for personal use (self-study and to have some skills to demonstrate; it captures all sorts of persona and work-related infor for personnel and compares them to their peers and non-peers in an organization, ties in to work assignments, etc.) and toiled over it since ~ 1994-ish. No damned patent is going to stop me from sharing or selling my schema, interface, back end tables, paper reports, and so on.
Come to think of it, any decent HR database is maybe 80% of they way there. Different tools and backend code allow for numerous combinations of design and presentation and implementation and robustness.
Maybe he has his panties in a twist because Microsoft are using their patent to develop a monitoring system that would make George Orwell blush to SELL to other sociopathic corporations.
The mere fact that they're in the process of inventing such an evil system is enough. Once it exists, they'll sell it to other corporations until everyone is forced to work in this hideous Orwellian nightmare.
Or maybe it's just a reflex response: Patents = Bad and Must Be Opposed!
I'll add that my trust is not given without the person seeking it damn well EARNING it. If any company I work for wants me to trust them then they'll give me a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, without quibbling about it, and without endlessly trying to get as much as they can while giving as little as possible. There's no way I'll EVER trust any employer who tries to force my trust while treating me like a slave, no matter what technology they try to bring to bear on it.
[Quote]I bet Capita are already on the phone asking when they can buy the system.[/quote]
True, then they will do what only Crapita can do the best, fuck it up, charge the customer for said fuck up and finally it will all end up with the poor customer wanting to hang the project manager but can't because the little shit has buggered off to cock up another project... and the cycle starts again.
Oh, the MS patent idea sounds crap.
Why do I feel that will be used to slash pay? 'We have determined that subjecting you to constant observation and judgement of all facial tics is a form of compensation to you. As such, we are reducing your take-home pay by half, since being our personal meat-Muppet is pay-raise, and you have done nothing to warrant such a raise. Remember: not orgasming at this news shows up as anti-social behavior on the monitors, so act accordingly; of course orgasming at the news is a benefit to you, so we will have to dock you for that too.
Seeing something like this makes me think there'll be a patent application sooner or later for analysis, as in Freudian analysis, Jungian analysis, transactional analysis... As long as there's a computer recording/interpreting the sessions, why not? It's just an extrapolation of things like this...
Actually, total workplace monitoring would have been useful to me more than once. One time the 'system' could have called the medics automatically when I'd gone catatonic after too many months of overwork as a one-body 'team'. Another time, the 'system' could have _reminded_ the boss that I'd been pulling 16 hour days for a few months prior to the merely 'satisfactory' rating on review. "?!?!? What company-saving project? Oh, xyzzy ... Um, yeah..., umm..."
On any chart with multiple measures I'd'a been offscale in *both* directions on certain days!
"“increased efficiency, increased participation, awareness of cultural practices, increased empowerment and engagement of employees, career growth, and trust improvement.”
You are recieving this Automated HR Friendly Production Increasing Email because your hand gestures whilst communicating to female staff member No. 3245-K exceeded the predetermined levels deemed necessary for communication. In addition, productivity has decreased 1.3%, possibly due to the massive weekend you were telling your friends about near the watercooler at lunch time. The company will be re-evaluating the necessity to maintain your employment going forward, in order to protect staff members who ARE performing - such as number 34345-L; who has increased his productivity 3.4% despite having slightly elevated sodium levels today and a susceptibility to a rare genetic disorder that we'll be telling him about before he goes home today.
Thank you for your co-operation.
Please note, all employees with genetic disorders will have employment re-evaluated.
Well if certain companies haven't yet learnt that SCADA and IP Cameras are not meant to be accessible on the public internet - I can only assume many many companies would suddenly end up with their orwelian database / computer system accessible to the public internet too.
I want absolutely nothing to do with this thing.
Hire good people, pay 'em at least 50% more than the competition would, give 'em more perks than the competition, and don't micromanage them. Just let 'em get on with it. That's why you're paying top-dollar, right?
All this kind of micromanagement will do is create a paranoid workforce, and completely destroy anything resembling morale and productivity.
Microsoft's marketing department obviously has no clue about keeping employees gruntled. Remind me again why it's good for Marketing to run an Engineering company?
 My four "permanent" fieldhands get around 6 times more $/hr than they would elsewhere, have free room & board, TV, Internet and all utilities are payed, the only bills they have are for their personal phones and vehicles. Likewise the foreman & his assistant (his wife), who get about double what they would make elsewhere. All are fully insured to boot (including a variation of "renters insurance"). The day workers have similar benefits. We have an all-hands planning meeting twice a week (Tuesday & Friday, over lunch), and I never need to tell anybody what to do the rest of the week. Day folks come & go with the seasons (we do re-hire good folks when we have work, so the faces are fairly consistent), but the "live ins" have all been with me for over a decade.
"All this kind of micromanagement will do is create a paranoid workforce, and completely destroy anything resembling morale and productivity."
Exactly! Management with so little trust in their employees that they deploy such a system shouldn't let those employees in the door to handle sensitive corporate data or take responsibility for activities which could determine the success or failure of the organisation.
Most of the truly creative people I have ever the pleasure to work with, had some sort of personality trait that would send this software off the end of the scale.
What would such a system would make of rainbow hairstyles, inflatable alligators, BOFH mugs, chair races and design documents written in the style of Tolkien? That's before we get to the bare feet and a disinclination to wash.
Alternatively you could have a neat, silent office full of tidy, emotionless clones, gently coasting to oblivion, as they wait for the next startling revelation from their know-nothing managers.
"Soooo, if this thing measure deviations from a learned baseline then it's in everyone's interest to ensure the baseline is set correctly"
Doing that as we speak. Third coffee in a row, gesturing wildly, and only returning to the computer to post on El Reg and check my twitter updates. Still waiting for another guy here to accept the office chair race challenge...
I'm a bit undecided whether the fastest should win, or if the number and difficulty of stunts should be included in the overall score. But I *trust* my line manager to make the right call on that one.
... software of this complexity would be doomed from the outset.
The IT dept. where I work are so busy just keeping track of silly user errors, everything else goes up the swanny. I swear when you walk into the IT dept. head office, there's a calendar on the wall 10 years out of date. We get emails like "Could you please remove your personal files of XYZ drive, as it's only a 160gb drive and there's only 10% left." - yep, I kid you not.
This IT department really does think it's 2001, nobody has told them terabytes of storage can be had for peanuts. I've got more disk space at home than the office file servers which serve 60 people.
So, I can only imagine if they were tasked with installing some form of electronic employee monitoring, they'd fall at the first hurdle - not enough disk space.
I think, fortunately for most workers out there, reality will prevail and a system like this will never see the light of day.
> This IT department really does think it's 2001, nobody has told them terabytes
> of storage can be had for peanuts.
In a bewildering number of IT departments, the real problem is that the beancounters just won't let them buy the kit. The IT bods know exactly how much it costs, but they don't have control of the budget. So they spend more in fire-fighting problems than it would cost to prevent the problem.
Good point - your spot on there, but where I work, the IT dept don't do themselves many favours.
They got us a NAS box for the dev office, 3TB, spent a fortune on an outsourced apple IT expert to repair an aging macosx file server - and for that price, they could've simply pulled finger with a lasting solution, instead of constantly patching. In fact, they are about to purchase that solution finally, after wasting countless hours and cash on stop-gap temporary fixes. Crazy.
> 7. The method of claim 1, wherein the analysis results include a score reflecting frequency of use of actions associated with desired and undesired behaviors.
What are they trying to achieve with that? Initially I thought about Getting Job Done, but the text indicates otherwise...
No Victorian factory would have been complete without its complement of Overseers checking on everything from productivity to moral behaviour both in and out of the workplace.
I'm surprised that this patent doesn't extend to the home - you wouldn't want anyone badmouthing their colleagues or the company in private, now, would you? Or failing to put in their extra few hours of unpaid overtime. Or meeting up with the employee of a competitor. Etc.
I'm sure it can all be built into your Xbox and you might even get a slight discount for the privilege.
> A patent will never be granted if there is no explanation how to make it.
A patent *should* never be granted if there is no explanation how to make it. But the USPTO just doesn't care about that, and grants patents anyway.
Since the burden of overturning a US patent is so high, such inappropriate patents become good troll fodder :-(
Great game! "I'm sorry, that information is not available at your security level". Bags the violet laser.
So much of this system is going to depend on the baseline and expectations of the controllers. I can easily imagine that *someone*, somewhere will hack it, a load of CEOs and Beancounters will suddenly find that they are at 3x treason points and the whole thing will be immediately canned.
This sort of thing has been going on for centuries. It's a classic example of "$really_old_thing but done on a computer".
One of the reason Snom phones are so popular is that even the basic models have the ability to interact with a web server on any event. So every time the phone goes on or off hook, every time a call is placed or terminated, ... - there's an entry in the web server log, and possibly an overview application showing the current state of the call centre, etc.
I'm glad Microsoft is wasting its money on such nonsensical patents, but I fear the USPTO will grant them anyway.
 Hateful little things.
If you ever see this technology or other flawed metrics (including discredited psychological tests) used by any employer, I suggest you leave the place double time and black list any like employer, because they are obviously too incompetent or malicious to not buy and use it.
As stated in other comments, managers do not need these toys if they are competent and do their job properly e.g. there is mutual trust and appropriate compensation.
I would not discount the possibility that sponsors/users of this technology set could be part of the hidden percentage of the population who are potential Psychopaths, given Psychopaths naturally gravitate towards positions of power.
I have seen first hand just how stupid all this management automation technology can be e.g. the Symantec suites of asset/security management software can cause significant thrashing and stuttering, thus significantly degraded performance, on otherwise speedy and powerful machines and bring laptops to their knees. I suspect this misguided technology will just add to the load and ironically further reduce productivity.
I would vote for Symantec and Mc Afee to be terminated before Microsoft, because they cause far more annoying problems due to seriously flawed products, which seem poor value for money compared to other software houses products.
...I am grateful that I am allowed to fill out timesheets myself, although the requirement to break down all activities accurately has become a bit of a nuisance lately.
On a side note: The word "trust" is completely out of place in the context of a surveillance system like that!
(And as stated by someone else earlier, trust in your boss does not pay any bills and is not comparable to a pay rise at all.)
All she cares about is:
- Do I do all of the work she assigns me on time?
- Do I do it well?
- Is it well-reviewed by all outside of our department?
I could spend 6 hours a day surfing for porn and go to the office in a clown suit, and if those three criteria were met, she'd be good.
Yeah, there's a reason that when we got acquired, the acquirers came to me and said, "We really need your skill set. What can we do to make you stay with us?" and my response was, "Keep my manager, and keep me reporting to her."
Interviewee: "Does your company use MS1984? Does it work well for you?"
Interviewer: "Yes - it helps us leverage our human capital and maximize synergies across the workplace, while aligning our sustainable and respect-based company culture. We can be proactive in positioning our initiatives on a going-forward basis... ... ... ... ..."
Interviewee: "Really sorry, but I just realized I have an urgent appointment I have to go to."
p.s. A good chunk of my work is on HR ERP systems - some companies are so incompetent that they can't use their million dollar software to tell you if someone on their payroll is currently working as a nurse, a trainer or has been detached to a special project. Think this will be different? Or will they use the "Microsoft good employee basic template"? Sharepoint anyone?
Can't make this stuff up. And patented to boot.
p.p.s. I wonder what it'd make out of Ballmer. That would be one good use out of it.
Every time one of these 'company N files for absurd patent' articles comes along, everyone goes bugshit without realizing that, among other things,
- Patents are written to be massively broad, and to list as a claim anything that might possibly ever be done by anyone in the spacetime continuum. You'll get, "An engine made of magnesium" and a claim for claim 1 "...but made of squirrels instead".
- Per above, a claim does not mean an intent to use. You're certainly not required to implement ever, if any, claim of a patent; anything otherwise would be absurd.
- Again, the purpose of the patent is -protection- of the basic idea. It's nowhere close to being a product roadmap. So FFS stop with the damn hysteria! Anybody doing lots of human behavior research is going to end up with scads or horribly ominous sounding things. It doesn't mean they're eyeing nascent dictatorship...
"While he was lost in his thoughts, Winston’s body had been performing the exercises routinely. Now he is suddenly startled out of his reverie by the instructress from the telescreen addressing him directly. Shouting at him as “6079 Smith W” the woman tells him to pay more attention and recalls him to the regimented present where each man is a coded number and the telescreens spy on every activity."
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
I'm filling a patent to disburtse anti psychotics in aerosole form on timer.
Seriously with the economy in the toilet and \people in fear of losing there jobs you want to ad this stress to them ? Have they not heard of work place shootings ? it might not even make it that point. You just pick up the first object and out it through the bosses head . Or run him/her down in the parking lot .
...is proof of a good employee. If it takes more coffee breaks and the odd chat to help the flow of ideas/reduce stress/improve morale/etc then so be it.
And trusting your boss is not the same as a pay rise. Liking your boss doesn't put food on your table. And would anyone trust their boss with this junk installed?
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