You’re sitting in a sidewalk café, stroking your beard as you peruse the latest news on your Google Glass headset. A pretty woman walks by and you look up, raising your headset as you do so. Far, far away, a Google server records this gesture, and logs this response for future use by an advertiser. Welcome to the world that Google has just patented.
Earlier this month, the Company-That-Is-Into-Everything received U.S. patent number 8,510,166 for a “gaze tracking system.” The patent, applied for in 2011, describes a head-mounted, gaze-tracking technique that transmits the images a user sees, as well as the gaze direction. An image recognition algorithm in a server somewhere identifies items in the external scenes, creating a log that can be used to define your psychographic self.
Of course, this being Google, it doesn’t stop there.
Searches Before You Want Them
The image recognition software can also generate “latent pre-searches” on the items identified, so that, for instance, appropriate search results or ads can pop up the next time that item shows up in your gaze. Ads for nearby flower shops, for example, could be superimposed over the lovely lady -- or, one supposes, any lovely lady -- when she next appears in your view. If you’re married, one might expect ads for competent divorce lawyers.
But wait, wait, there’s more. Google can determine how long you looked at the subject in question, and -- you knew this was coming -- if your eyes were aroused. Eye interest can be indicated, according to the patent, by pupil dilation, although one supposes low light conditions or eye drops might similarly show such effects.
Google’s intent in pupil tracking, at least ostensibly, is not to determine your level of interest in a passerby, but to infer “emotional state information” that could provide “valuable metrics to determine the success” of an ad you’re viewing.
The Google Talent Movement
If there was an electronic billboard behind the lady, Google is prepared to send a bill to any company whose ads were displayed when you looked, charging on a per-gaze basis. Per-gaze fees could vary, the patent said, by such variables as whether a user looked directly at the ad, how long the user gazed and emotional state.
Although Google has currently forbidden ads from being shown on its to-be-released Glass headset -- a policy that obviously could change -- this patent shows that it’s not the ads that Google is after here. It’s after you. If it’s any small consolation, Google has said it has no plans to immediately use this patent.
Given Google’s interest in what our eyes do, allow me to be the first to spark the Google Talent Movement. After all, making money off of how humans act is, by any definition I can summon without using Google search, a kind of paid performance.
If Google wants to make money off my gazing, how much my pupils dilate, how long I look -- or even if I raise my eyebrows in surprise or disgust -- I’m all for it.
Just talk to my agent.
Image courtesy of Joe Seer (Shutterstock)