There are some pretty cool things about Microsoft's no-controller Xbox Kinect sensor array. The thing lets you control your TV with a hand-wave and a voice command. But! People near your TV can — and will — mess with you.
The problem involves the voice control offered by the Kinect. With a Kinect attached to your Xbox 360, you can say "Xbox... ESPN!" and it will load its new ESPN channel, then use a few more voice commands to start watching a football game. Someone else can walk in the room and say "Xbox... pause" and your game will be stopped. Or they could say "Xbox... stop" and the whole application might shut down. No more ESPN.
The current Xbox Kinect voice command program used by Microsoft does not distinguish between my voice and yours. It simply listens for anyone speaking some of the pre-set commands (and does a great job of distinguishing them and reacting to them on the first mumbled try, I should add.) So I'll be watching a movie or a sports show, loving my ability to pause the thing with a voice command or to bark out a request for an instant replay — and then you'll walk over and mess things up. The Kinect doesn't care if I'm the one saying "Xbox" or you. It will listen to anyone.
Little brothers will be interfering with the Xbox video-viewing of older sisters everywhere once Kinect is out.
Wives will be able to snap husbands from TV stupors by voice-commanding Kinect to stop.
There will be no hogging of the remote. There will be a chattering fusillade of warring voice commands as anyone in the family who can speak will be telling the Xbox what to do.
If we're lucky, Microsoft's engineers will fix this and have the Kinect learn just the voice of the person who turned the system on. That wasn't the case when I tried the voice-activated video playback here at E3 earlier this week. Microsoft developers joked that this issue might help people learn to share better, but they didn't have a tech solution, unfortunately.
Will good manners stop the trolls? Or will it be impossible to resist the opportunity to walk in on a video-watching Kinect user and shout "Xbox.... pause!" just to mess with them. Who could resist that?