IBM’s new patent application about a real-time video censoring system was published end of March, and the thought of coming closer to a Black Mirror-like world lingers in the air. Would it be a useful tool for protecting copy-right content or a scary sci-fi vision coming true where parents withhold disturbing parts of reality from their children?

What is scarier: science fiction imitating reality or reality mimicking sci-fi?

Netflix’s sci-fi series, Black Mirror, shows with cutting-edge accuracy the darkest corners where technology can lead humanity. The producers stretch situations to the very extreme and display how the fallibility of humans compromise technology and how even the best intentions could lead to a disaster.

One of the episodes tells the story of a desperate mother, who, after a scare at the playground, decides to get her daughter fitted with a brain implant to monitor her every move. Every parent’s nightmare is that they lose sight of their child and in that episode, technology offers an easy answer. The platform not only follows the little girl’s every step, but it also protects her from disturbing or scary visual content such as seeing a sanguine dog barking or her own blood through pixeling out the unwanted images.

Black Mirror

Now, IBM’s latest patent application published on 29 March 2018, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, resembles a lot the latter feature present in the Arkangel episode.

IBM to build a live video censoring tool

As the patent was filed in 2016, it is highly unlikely that the engineers at IBM got the idea from the remarkable British sci-fi series, as its last season (with Arkangel) was released late 2017. The concept must have been around for the last couple of years, but it is not a fortunate coincidence for IBM if Black Mirror comes to mind regarding its technology.

Nota bene. The patent application says that IBM’s innovation is a computer-implemented method of editing a video recording of an environment, where the given environment contains an entity to be censored. With the help of a visual light communication (VLC) signal and an entity recognition algorithm, the video is modified to replace at least a portion of the identified entity with a graphical element. The document also states that the video recording may be processed and modified in real-time (!) to one or more remote viewers. That way secret, sensitive or copyright-protected materials,  which the owner does not want to be viewed by untrusted, unauthorized or unknown third-parties, might be blurred out. Modification of the video recording may depend on a viewer’s viewing privileges or security credentials.

Moreover, the patent application mentions augmented reality and virtual reality headsets, which might also benefit from the real-time censoring system.

Black Mirror

So, we might come closer to a reality where customers will only see parts of a product in a demo – some privileged partners more, “ordinary” buyers less. But, are we also heading to a reality where parents watch TV together with their children, and while the adults are allowed to see disturbing images, their kids will only sense a blurred image from that part of the movie? Black Mirror, here we come? We don’t know that yet. We have to note that it is only a patent application by IBM, not even a demo trailer bit is released yet. And as science fiction already warned us about some possible dystopian consequences, now regulators and developers might make some moves in order to avoid the dark scenarios. We cross our fingers for that.

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