the pc meets cindy brady

Sandia Laboratories has decided that we need computers that monitor and tell us how we’re feeling; even scarier, they believe that our computers should snitch on us, telling our colleagues and supervisors how we’re feeling and how those feelings might impact our work.

That computer on your desk is just your helper. But soon it may become a very close friend.

Now it sends your e-mails, links you to the Web, does your computations, and pays your bills.

Soon it could warn you when you’re talking too much at a meeting, if scientists at Sandia National Laboratories’ Advanced Concepts Group have their way.

Or it could alert others in your group to be attentive when you have something important to say.

Aided by tiny sensors and transmitters called a PAL (Personal Assistance Link) your machine (with your permission) will become an anthroscope–an investigator of your up-to-the-moment vital signs, says Sandia project manager Peter Merkle. It will monitor your perspiration and heartbeat, read your facial expressions and head motions, analyze your voice tones, and correlate these to keep you informed with a running account of how you are feeling–something you may be ignoring–instead of waiting passively for your factual questions. It also will transmit this information to others in your group so that everyone can work together more effectively.

Just what I need. A tattletale computer that tells my boss and co-workers what I’m really thinking. Believe me, no one needed a Personal Assistance Link this morning to know that I was this close to quitting.

Those concerned about privacy–who see this as an incursion similar to HAL’s, the supercomputer that took over the spaceship in the movie 2001–can always opt out, he says, just like people choose not to respond to emails or decline to attend meetings.

Really? How many people are able to opt-out of email and meetings on a regular ongoing basis, and still keep their jobs or any promotion potential?

I’m actually fine with the idea that my computer might pass information to me about my apparent mental, emotional and physical states, but I’m extremely uncomfortable with this kind of data being made available to my employer. Beyond just the potential for misinterpreting the data, there seems to be real potential for Big Brotherly misuse; what if my company decides, for example, that my stress levels are consistently high and deems me an unacceptable insurance risk? What business is it of my boss if my pulse races, my respiration increases, and there’s a rise in my, um, brain activity when I’m meeting with the cute guy on my team?