Reality Mining MIT Tech Singles Out 'That Guy' in Office Meetings

Every office has a pompous windbag or ten that monopolises meeting time with their constant interruptions. And while making fun of those idiots after the fact is a staple of office life, the sad truth is that thousands of hours are lost to these interruptions, and efficiency suffers because of them. Lucky for office life, the brainpower at MIT is hard at work on a series of devices and badges that implement "reality mining" to eliminate these blowhards forever. And no, this has nothing to do with military lasers.

The technology is the brainchild of MIT's Alex Pentland, who has invented a series of mobile phone-sized gadgets to listen to people as they talk in meetings. These devices then study various communication signals "beneath the words" to help users better understand their speaking habits, and perhaps curb obnoxious behaviour in the future.

The devices are currently deployed in local banks and universities, housed inside special smart phones (crap, is that supposed to be com now?) and badges. Participants wear or use the devices from several days to several months. When people wearing the devices speak, sensors collect data on their timing, enthusiasm and energy, and variations in their speech. Even a person's gestures are recorded, so it's kind of like what the NSA does, but on a voluntary basis.

Previously, researchers would gather this data by hand, with forms and surveys. The process was tedious, inefficient and flawed, due to the fact that human beings, by their nature, "have a lot of bias when they recall their behavior," said Anmol Madan, a graduate student of Dr. Pentland.

Not cold, hard technology though, which is not only more efficient in logging conversation data, it's also exponentially more accurate too.

Ultimately, Pentland envisions his tech leading to "smart" phone services that ID family members and put those calls though, but sends everything else to voicemail. [New York Times]