Speak no evil


Slashdot notes that Google has filed for a patent on what it calls a “policy violation checker,” which comprises “methods and systems for identifying problematic phrases in an electronic document, such as an e-mail.” Here’s how it works:

A context of an electronic document may be detected. A textual phrase entered by a user is captured. The textual phrase is compared against a database of phrases previously identified as being problematic phrases. If the textual phrase matches a phrase in the database, the user is alerted via an in-line notification, based on the detected context of the electronic document.

“Problematic phrases,” Google explains, “include, but are not limited to, phrases that present policy violations, have legal implications, or are otherwise troublesome to a company, business, or individual.”

The patent application, which was published last week, sketches out various ways the service might work. For instance, the “in-line notification” could take the form of the immediate “underlining or highlighting” of the problematic or troublesome word or phrase as it’s typed. The notification could also be accompanied by “a hyperlink to a webpage.” The system could also use “machine learning techniques to identify problematic phrases without human intervention.” Most interesting of all, the system could be programmed “to alert a third party to a match between a textual phrase and a phrase in the database.” For instance, “if a user creates a text document, presentation, or other document with a problematic phrase, the policy violation checker may notify a member of the legal department of the existence of the document.”

One can imagine all sorts of immediate applications for a service that highlights and records “problematic phrases” as you type them. But it strikes me that the policy violation checker’s real potential will emerge only when Google perfects its neuronal interface — the one that Sergey Brin described as “a little version of Google that you just plug into your brain.” At that point, policy-violation checking could become preemptive. The moment a problematic thought entered your mind, you would be alerted to the looming transgression and the thought would be deleted before it even reaches the expression stage. No one else would need know the incident ever occurred, except, of course, the designated third party.

Photo via x-ray delta one.

4 thoughts on “Speak no evil

  1. D3RP

    Hmm – how difficult would it be to create a script that constantly posted on google’s system various documents, emails, etc – that contained these “problematic phrases”? I wonder how difficult it would be to make a virus/worm/trojan/botnet to do the same? They want “problematic phrases”? Let’s give ’em some…!

  2. Samir

    And if you see or hear something contrary to the legal department’s “policy”, presumably that could be deleted before you even begin to think about it?

    Click here to install the Three Wise Monkeys app. It may be a condition of your employment.

    Until then, LDL.

  3. yt75

    Impressive … thanks to point that out
    (it has already been forwarded to quite a few third parties though, why not listening to warnings ?)

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