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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Will the Kinect 2 Be Able to Read Your Lips?

Some sources say that the next iteration of the Kinect will be so precise that it can lip read.

  • December 7, 2011

How will users hack this one? The Kinect is a device that inherently grows and expands: Microsoft itself has come around to acknowledging that the oft-hacked device really belongs to the world.

But just because users are building on the Kinect platform doesn’t mean that Microsoft itself doesn’t have plans to improve upon the device. And “sources” (unnamed, alas) have told Eurogamer that the next generation of the Kinect will be “so accurate it can lip read.”

The phrase is downright chilling, probably because it evokes a certain scene from a certain movie about a certain sociopathic AI.

It also seems utterly unnecessary, since lip reading is for the deaf, and the Kinect can actually hear and respond to voice commands quite nicely.

But read a little beyond the headline in the Eurogamer report, and you’ll see that the comment about Kinect 2 being able to lip read is really just an eye-catching way of saying that it will be able to analyze players on the level of the face, not just the body. It’s not that the Kinect 2 will be trying to see what you’re whispering in confidence to your fellow gamer, in order to plot a revolt against you. Rather, the Kinect 2 will be able to take cues from your facial expressions to clue itself in to your emotional states. (The Kinect 2 is expected to come bundled with the next generation of the Xbox console, which in turn is expected to be revealed in 2012, for a likely 2013 launch.)

“It can be cabled straight through on any number of technologies that just take phenomenally high res data straight to the main processor and straight to the main RAM and ask, what do you want to do with it?” that nameless source told Eurogamer. (Microsoft, for its part, declined to confirm or deny this, saying it “does not comment on rumor or speculation.”)

Well, what would Kinect want to do with it? Does it help you greatly if your gaming device knows you’re elated, or peeved? If you’ve been defeated by your opponent too many times, and it detects a frustrated frown, will Kinect 2 tell you to buck up? Or might it automatically adjust the difficulty level of games according to the intensity of your grimace?

I suspect that as with Kinect 1, so with Kinect 2: gamers and hackers everywhere will decide, ultimately, just how to use this increasingly powerful technology.

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