I tend to stay off of Xbox Live when I’m not joining a group of people I know; beyond the fact that many gamers are fickle and dramatically anti-competitive, the vile verbal diahrrea exhibited by users is a buzz-kill. The steady stream of fag jokes and racial slurs is more boring than offensive, but I’m sure parents and other folks don’t see it the same way.

In 2004 Microsoft filed a patent application for technology that would filter unwanted words from voice chat. As the application says: The automatic censoring filter employs a lattice comprising either
phonemes and/or words derived from phonemes for comparison against
corresponding phonemes or words included in undesired speech data. If
the probability that a phoneme or word in the input audio data stream
matches a corresponding phoneme or word in the undesired speech data is
greater than a probability threshold, the input audio data stream is
altered so that the undesired word or a phrase comprising a plurality
of such words is unintelligible or inaudible.
The patent has now been approved, leaving us to speculate on how, if and when it will be put to use.

As a gamer who uses Live, naturally the first assumption is that the tech could clean up the wilds of online gaming. That’s questionable enough. Would I be able to filter anyone who isn’t in my friends list, but allow people I consider friends to be as vile as they’d like? In general, what controls would users have over the tech? Then there are the much wider-ranging questions. What other companies and agencies would license the tech? What if your phone company got hold of it? Is making Xbox Live safe for children a good enough reason to get a flexible censoring algorithm out into the wild? Not really.