Future Macs may watch you watching them thanks to a gaze-based display control

Future Macs may watch you watching them. Let me explain. Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,454,225) for “gaze-based display control.” It involves a method for receiving an image such as the eye of someone looking at a Mac, and identifying, based the image of the eye, a direction of a gaze performed by the user. 

Based on the direction of the gaze, a region on a display coupled to the computerized system is identified, an operation is performed on content presented in the region. The invention relates generally to human-machine interfaces, and specifically to interfaces that combine multiple user interaction modalities. 

In the patent filing, Apple notes that a number of different types of user interface devices and methods are available. Common tactile interface devices include a computer keyboard, a mouse and a joystick. Touch screens detect the presence and location of a touch by a finger or other object within the display area. Infrared remote controls are widely used, and "wearable" hardware devices have been developed, as well, for purposes of remote control. 

Computer interfaces based on three-dimensional (3D) sensing of parts of a user's body have also been proposed. A 3D sensor, typically positioned in a room in proximity to the user, provides position information, which is used to identify gestures created by a body part of interest. The gestures are recognized based on the shape of the body part and its position and orientation over an interval. The gesture is classified for determining an input into a related electronic device. 

Three-dimensional human interface systems may identify not only the user's hands, but also other parts of the body, including the head, torso and limbs. Apple thinks gaze detection could be useful as part of a computer user interface. This patent, as well as U.S. patent number 7,762,665, describes a method of modulating operation of a device, comprising: providing an attentive user interface for obtaining information about an attentive state of a user; and modulating operation of a device on the basis of the obtained information, wherein the operation that is modulated is initiated by the device. Preferably, the information about the user's attentive state is eye contact of the user with the device that is sensed by the attentive user interface. 

Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.