Reminder: Microsoft Has a Patent for a ‘Cryptocurrency System Using Body Activity Data’ and It’s Just as Creepy as It Sounds


Here is an overview of Microsoft’s “Cryptocurrency System Using Body Activity Data” patent, which calls for using a person’s bodily functions—including everything from their heart beat to their brain activity—as a way to perform so-called “proof-of-work” for “mining” various cryptocurrencies. The patent, number WO2020060606, even outlines how real-time imaging of individuals’ brain activity could be used for the scheme.

In June of 2019 Microsoft—the tech company that makes laggy, buggy software and has a monster market cap of approximately $1.8 trillion—filed a patent for a “Cryptocurrency System Using Body Activity Data.” The patent, which was published in March of 2020, outlines how, in essence, a person’s bodily functions—including everything from their heart beat to their brain activity—could be used as a way to perform so-called “proof-of-work” for “mining” various cryptocurrencies; whether they be decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, or centralized ones, like central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

The patent number for Microsoft’s creepy cryptocurrency system, as conspiracy theorists like to point out, is WO2020060606. (Bold and color added.)

Image: Microsoft / Patentscope

Microsoft’s patent, while seemingly creepy based off its title, is, in fact… exceptionally creepy according to its description; summoning to mind the idea of captive sea lions doing tricks for salmon snacks or low-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party groveling for bumps in their social credit scores. Because, with a minuscule leap of the imagination, it’s easy to see how this “cryptocurrency system” could be used to bribe people into performing certain behaviors for (what would in all likelihood be) pitiful monetary rewards.

As explained in its patent Microsoft’s system replaces computers performing proof-of-work computations for a given cryptocurrency with a human performing the function; albeit in a much different manner. For those unfamiliar with “crypto,” proof-of-work is a computationally intensive process that serves as a bulwark against fraudulent record keeping on a given cryptocurrency’s digital “ledger.” It does so by forcing computer “nodes” constituting a given crypto ledger to cryptographically validate new blocks in the crypto system’s blockchain. (A blockchain consists of “blocks” of transaction data that are cryptographically linked and each have their own “fingerprint” known as a “hash.”)

Taking the place of the computer nodes solving complex math problems in order to add more blocks to a blockchain—and hence earn a bit of a given cryptocurrency for doing so—Microsoft’s system uses actions performed by people. Although not necessarily conscious actions. On the contrary, the patent notes the proof-of-work functions would be based on, for example, “radiation emitted from [the] human body, brain activities, body fluid flow (e.g. blood flow), organ activity or movement, body movement, and any other activities that can be sensed and represented by images, waves, signals, texts, numbers, degrees, or any other form of information or data.”

Image: Microsoft / Patentscope

The patent goes on to note that examples of this “body radiation” would also consist of brain waves, including “(i) gamma waves, involved in learning or memory tasks, (ii) beta waves, involved in logical thinking and/or conscious thought, (iii) alpha waves, which may be related to subconscious thoughts, (iv) theta waves, which may be related to thoughts involving deep and raw emotions, (v) delta waves, which may be involved in sleep or deep relaxation, or (vi) electroencephalogram (EEG), which may be [a] measurement used to evaluate the electrical activity in the brain, such as deep concentration.”

What this means, in essence, is that people partaking in this particular crypto system would be given a “task” by a computer server via a device (e.g. a smartwatch) and, when the task is completed, would earn them a bit of a given cryptocurrency “coin” or “token.” Or, in other words, as Microsoft notes, “The cryptocurrency system communicatively coupled to the device of [a] user [would] verify if the body activity data satisfies one or more conditions set by the cryptocurrency system, and [would] award cryptocurrency to the user whose body activity data is verified.”

This would mean Microsoft’s crypto system would be fortified against attacks on its ledger by turning individuals’ normal bodily functions into the stop-gap between its ledger’s existing blocks and any additionally added blocks. I.e. the tech giant’s crypto scheme would be able to enrich itself simply by monitoring breathing patterns, heart rates, and even the thoughts of those working—functionally—as digital miners.

Image: Microsoft / Patentscope

Proof-of-work wouldn’t only be passive for those (hopefully willingly) participating in the Microsoft crypto scheme described in this patent. People would also be able to work actively as “a brain wave or body heat emitted from [a] user when the user performs [a] task provided by an information or service provider, such as viewing advertisement or using certain internet services, [could] be used in the mining process.”

As for the “sensor” devices that could be used to collect all of this body activity, the patent notes that commonplace electronics such as “personal computers, servers, cell phones, tablets, laptops, smart devices (e.g. smart watches or smart televisions)” could all be used. But less commonplace electronics as well, including “functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners or sensors, electroencephalography (EEG) sensors, near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) sensors, heart rate monitors, thermal sensors, optical sensors, radio frequency (RF) sensors, ultrasonic sensors, cameras, or any other sensor or scanner that can measure or sense body activity or scan human body.”

In regards to fMRI specifically, Microsoft’s patent says that the tech could be used to track blood flow as it goes to different parts of the brain in order to “detect areas of activity.” Which, of course, sounds a lot like people would need to have their minds read in order to provide their proof-of-work for the crypto scheme.

As for actual steps Microsoft has taken to develop its own cryptocurrency scheme? It seems there has been some investment in the tech, but no development of direct precursors to what’s explained in this patent. Yet, anyway.

So far (based on a cursory internet search) Microsoft has been awarded another U.S. patent for “Techniques for implementing a ledger-independent token service” that allows a computer system executing the token service to “provide to the user one or more token templates, where each token template corresponds to a type of physical or digital asset and defines a set of one or more attributes and one or more control functions associated with the type.” Which, according to CoinDesk, translates to software that “can help users develop blockchain applications by making it easier and more efficient to create crypto tokens for different distributed ledgers.”

In September of this year, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer also said in an interview with Bloomberg (immediately above) that a “play-to-earn” crypto scheme is something that he is “cautious about.” He added that the setup “creates a worker force out of players for certain players to kind of monetize.” Which sounds a bit vague. Although, perhaps, people who use any crypto associated with Microsoft may want to get used to the idea of being a worker for the tech company. Whether they want to be or not.

Feature image: Chris Hope / Satoshi Nakamoto

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