Because This Is Totally Not Creepy At All…

April 24th, 2008at 07:40pm Posted by Eli


I mean, this wouldn’t scar a kid for life or anything, right?

When Deb Roy and his wife, Rupal Patel, learned of their impending bundle of joy, they did what many first-time parents do: They got a video camera. Actually, they bought 11 video cameras and 14 state-of-the-art microphones. Then they built a temperature-controlled data-storage room in their basement and loaded it with, among other gear, five Apple Xserves and a 4.4TB Xserve RAID, backup tape drives, and robotic tape changers. No, Roy and Patel hadn’t instantly become the world’s most doting parents; instead, they had hatched a plan to record practically every waking moment of their son’s first three years.

The high-powered academic couple—he directs of the Cognitive Machines Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, and she directs the Communication Analysis and Design Laboratory at Northeastern University—scrambled to convert their suburban Boston home into a state-of-the-art research center that would host the most ambitious study ever conducted on how children acquire language. They named the linguistic data-mining odyssey the Human Speechome Project (HSP)…. In addition to their roles as primary investigators in the study, Roy and Patel are, along with their now two-year-old son, the central research subjects.

“My ultimate goal is to understand how language works,” Roy explains. That’s a tall order, and the logical place to start, he maintains, is with children. Decades of inquiry involving video and audio recordings of children interacting with caregivers and psychologists in institutional “speech labs” have laid a foundation to begin answering questions about how children develop language skills. The day-in/day-out interactions between children and adults, Roy points out, are key to the way children grasp language. “But for all of the interest in how children learn language, there’s no comprehensive data of even a single child’s development,” Roy says. “Most researchers rely on speech recordings that cover less than 1.5 percent of a child’s complete linguistic experience.”

And that simply isn’t a dense or broad enough data set to answer the kinds of deep questions that Roy thinks are necessary to uncover the steady process of language acquisition. Truly understanding how human beings acquire language requires “stepping into a child’s shoes.”

So, from the moment he arrived home from the hospital, Roy and Patel’s son has lived under the almost constant observation of the 14 microphones and 11 video cameras that are embedded in the ceiling over every major room of the house. “Somewhere around 80 percent of his waking hours at home are being recorded,” says Roy. For the other 20 percent, privacy considerations permit mom, dad and other caregivers to turn off the cameras or microphones using wall-mounted touch panels in each room. Roy also equipped each controller with an emergency “oops” switch, marked with a giant exclamation point, to erase any particularly embarrassing family moments.


Twenty-two months into the project, Roy says the storage network holds approximately 250TB of data, and by the end of the project in another year he expects it to grow to a full capacity of 1.4 petabytes (million gigabytes). That’s enough room to hold digitized copies of every book in the Library of Congress–10 times over.

I’m sure this could end up contributing valuable information to the study of linguistics, but I have to ask how it affects their relationship with their kid when he realizes that he was a test subject for his whole childhood, that 80% of said childhood is on tape, and all without his informed consent.  That kid is going to have ISSUES.

(h/t Engadget)

Entry Filed under: Science,Weirdness

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