Microsoft has filed a patent for a “meeting insight computing system” that could use sensors to monitor participants’ body language and facial expressions.
The patent is for a tool that analyses the quality of meetings based on a number of criteria to generate an overall quality score. It can then make recommendations for future meetings, such as changing the meeting time or location in order to improve quality.
Microsoft filed it with the US Patents and Trademark Office in 2018. It was granted in July and made public in November.
The tool, which can be used for virtual and in-person meetings, calculates the quality score based on “a meeting productivity metric” and a “participant emotional sentiment metric”. An “environmental comfort metric” can also measure air temperature, brightness and noise levels.
Cameras, sensors and software tools could be used to monitor which of the invited meeting participants attended and their body language, facial expressions and the amount of time each participant spends contributing versus performing other tasks, such as texting or checking emails.
It also said that microphones could be used to “detect speech patterns consistent with boredom [and] fatigue”.
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In the filing, Microsoft said: “The meeting insight computing system relies on quality parameters received from a plurality of meeting quality monitoring devices. These parameters enable an understanding of the real-world context in which meetings take place and can be used by users or organisations to improve overall meeting quality.”
Although the idea of optimising meeting productivity is not in itself concerning, the monitoring of meeting participants raises clear concerns over employee privacy and surveillance.
In the context of a rise in remote working, many have voiced concerns that the pandemic could lead to greater levels of employee surveillance in the workplace, particularly when it comes to invasive productivity monitoring.
This comes after Microsoft received criticism for Microsoft 365’s new “Productivity Score” tool, which generates insights on “how people collaborate on content, how they use Microsoft 365 products to communicate, and whether they use Microsoft 365 across multiple platforms”.
Although the tool detailed in the patent may not come to fruition, it does give an indication of the product ideas the company could be exploring.