Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Redmond Trains Monkeys as 'Identity Assistants'

Tucked away in a deserted building in the farthest corner of the Redmond campus is a laboratory that Microsoft doesn't want you to know about.

Guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot intruders on sight, the lab, referred to as the 'Monkey House' by those few who are privy to what goes on there, holds an awful truth.

These grainy pictures, smuggled out at great risk by "Leon" (not his real name), an employee whose conscience will no longer allow him to look away, show that truth - monkeys being trained to act as Primate Identity Assistants (PIA)- animals trained to sit by a keyboard for hour after monotonous hour to facilitate the flow of identity attributes through Microsoft Cardspace if and when their master is unable to do so.

Using a combination of electroshock therapy and forced watching of past Bill Gates TechEd key notes, the monkeys are trained to act as proxies for their masters whenever those humans are unable or unwilling to sit in front of a PC to mediate the flow of identity attributes through Cardspace.

The monkeys are taught to recognize particular SP identifiers, and to click on appropriate card icons if and when that SP should ask for identity attributes. If they pick the right infocard for a given context, they are rewarded with bananas; if they click on the wrong card, the "Laws of Identity" are recited to them at ear piercing volume through headphones. Said Leon, "They learn pretty quick I tell you".

It is believed that PIA are Microsoft's answer to criticisms that Cardspace, while useful for those attribute sharing use cases in which the user initiates the flow by their own browsing activities, is unable to adequately address those other use cases in which the user is 'offline' and therefore unable to participate in the flow.

Notwithstanding the attractiveness of the idea of 'identity assistants' - the conditions under which the monkeys are trained appears to violate ethical guidelines for animal experimentation. "The conditions are just squalid" reported Leon. "I mean, there are piles of feces everywhere, food scraps, dirty cages - it's just horrible. And that's just the technicians, the rooms where the monkeys live & train are almost as bad".

When informed of the lab and its activities, local SPCA representative Sara Thorne was appalled. "That is just so cruel, to make poor animals sit in front of Vista's Cardspace all day. I mean, the usability is just not there yet, is it?" she cried. "We will definitely be conducting an investigation".


Anonymous said...

I would doubt this is real. The photos show a monkey on a peice of wood. Yet describe a complex computer training program. From an animal training perspective monkeys can not learn by being told through ear phones what you want. They need multiple direct action requests and rewards. Whether or not you agree with animal training, this is not possible to be trained to a monkey.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised. I would have thought that guide dogs, already well-trained would be naturals for this kind of work? My untrained dog has already figured out how to turn off Clippy in Word!

Paul Madsen said...

John, dogs are heavily unionized. Just not an option.