You Could Purge Shatner From Star Trek With Google’s New Video Magic [Patent]

custom video

Google wants to use facial recognition to let viewers customize videos as they watch them.

Love Star Trek but cringe every time William Shatner opens his mouth? Google’s new method for customizing video could allow you to mute Captain Kirk’s melodramatic monologues, skip scenes in which the character appears, or even change the channel every time Shatner’s face graces the screen.

These novel ways of slicing and dicing video on the fly are outlined in a patent application entitled “Customized Video,” published Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and assigned to Google. The system would use facial recognition to identify actors, cartoon character, etc. — and give viewers a way to find (or avoid) other videos featuring the same people.

viewer preferences

Google’s system would utilize personal preferences to manipulate what the viewer sees.

The patent application outlines a system that would use image recognition to identify people or characters, then modify what the viewer sees by muting selected audio, speeding up playback, skipping portions of the video or even changing channels, all based on criteria specific to the watcher’s unique tastes.

“A viewer may have different dispositions towards the characters or personalities in a video,” says the patent application. “For example, a viewer may like a particular movie, but absolutely hate a particular character in it. In such a case, the [viewer's] overall impression of the video may be diminished because of the hated character. Conversely, a viewer may have a negative impression of a television show, but love a particular character. In various implementations, a video customization service may be used to emphasize certain portions of a video and deemphasize other portions based on whether a portion contains a loved or hated character or personality.”

As we gain access to increasing amounts of video, from live-streaming events to old episodes of half-forgotten television shows served up by Netflix and its competitors, finding new ways to help people wade through the deep catalog available for viewing becomes trickier and more important than ever.

To that end, the system outlined by Google is not all about avoiding certain despised actors, personalities or characters — it’s also about connecting viewers to content they would probably like but might otherwise miss. Netflix might have fueled a binge-watching revolution, but Google’s video-customization plan could push things even further.

The system could be set up, for instance, to alert a Neil Patrick Harris fan streaming an episode of How I Met Your Mother on a smartphone when a Doogie Houser, M.D. rerun begins airing on TV. Or it could give the viewer a quick and easy way to switch to the geeky actor’s key scene on the Blu-ray of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

Spot an actor's face in one show and soon you could be watching him in another.

Spot an actor’s face in one show and soon you could be watching him in another.

The system could scan a variety of sources for video that might be of interest to the viewer, then use on-screen or audio alerts, or ping the user’s mobile device, to let them know when a favored character or personality pops up in an available video.

“In some implementations, the video customization service may monitor or analyze video from an undisplayed source to identify a particular character or personality,” the patent document says. “For example, the video customization service may monitor television channels or streamed video channels that are not currently being provided to a display, to identify a particular character or personality. Based on a user’s preferences, the video customization service may provide an alert to the user that the character or personality is being shown in an undisplayed portion of video (e.g., video on an undisplayed channel, another scene in a playing movie, etc.).”

Granted, blowing a Shatner-size hole in most vintage Star Trek episodes probably wouldn’t leave you with much in the way of story line. Still, if Google’s patent gets granted and it brings this sort of video customization to the masses, it might be fun to purge your least-favorite character from a given movie. Imagine (as many people have) yelling at your monitor to expunge Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace.

“The video customization service may utilize voice commands in addition to, or in lieu of, preferences screen,” the patent application says. “For example, a user may issue a voice command to the video customization service, ‘Skip scenes with John Doe.'”

It’s all about blowing up the “take-it-or-leave-it” manner in which we usually consume video, according to the document.

“A viewer of a television program may have the option of changing the channel or turning off the television, but have no control over the actual content of the television program itself,” says the patent application. “Similarly, a viewer of a DVD movie may have the option of skipping the current scene or fast-forward through the scene, but have no control over the scene itself.”