A hot potato: The worst thing about business meetings is often trying to stay awake throughout. Bosses don't usually notice when their employees are close to passing out from boredom, but a worrying new patent for an "insight computer system" could monitor meetings and score them based on body language, facial expressions, room temperature, time of day, and the number of people in attendance.

The patent, discovered by GeekWire, describe the system using cameras, sensors, and software tools to determine the effectiveness and productiveness of a meeting. One example is "how much a participant contributes to a meeting vs performing other tasks (e.g., texting, checking email, browsing the Internet)."

Data gathered by the system could be used by management to decide whether a meeting was successful, highlighting potential problem areas that should be changed: venue, who to invite, the time of day it's held, etc.

"Many organizations 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," states the patent.

Both in-person and virtual meetings can be analyzed, so even those working from home won't be safe from Microsoft's prying eye. GeekWire notes that the company was criticized for enabling what appears to be workplace surveillance when it rolled out its "Productivity Score" feature in October. Wolfie Christl of the independent Cracked Labs digital research institute in Vienna, Austria, writes that it allows managers to see the "number of days an employee has been sending emails, using the chat, using 'mentions' in emails etc," turning Microsoft 365 into a full-fledged workplace surveillance tool. Microsoft, of course, insists that Productivity Score does not spy on workers.

As with all patents, there's no guarantee that the insight computer system will become a real product, but the existence of the Productivity Score suggests Microsoft is pushing further into this space. Whether it reduces unproductive meetings or sees employees reprimanded for glancing at their phones is up for debate.

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