South China Morning Post reported that Employees’ brain activity and emotions are reportedly being monitored in factories, state-owned enterprises, and the military across China. This emotional surveillance helps employers identify mood shifts so they can change break times, an employee’s task, or even send them home. The technology reportedly increases productivity and profitability, as State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power in the southeast city of Hangzhou, company’s profits jumped by $315 million since the technology was introduced in 2014.
The technology works by placing wireless sensors in employees’ caps or hats which, combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, spot incidents of workplace rage, anxiety, or sadness. Employers use this “emotional surveillance technology” by then tweaking workflows, including employee placement and breaks, to increase productivity and profits. The sensors, built in the brim of the driver’s hat, could measure various types of brain activities, including fatigue and attention loss with an accuracy of more than 90 per cent, according to the company’s website
Another type of sensor, built by technology company Deayea, is reportedly used in the caps of train drivers on the high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai. The sensor can even trigger an alarm if a driver falls asleep. Zheng Xingwu, a professor of management at the Civil Aviation University of China, said China could be the first country in the world to introduce the brain surveillance device into cockpits. Most airline accidents were caused by human factors and a pilot in a disturbed emotional state could put an entire plane at risk, he said. According to the SCMP, more than a dozen businesses and China’s military have used a different programme developed by the government-funded brain surveillance project Neuro Cap, based out of Ningbo University.
Companies like Emotiv Systems, Neurosky, and Interaxon, manufacture headsets that can sense the electrical activity inside a person’s brain using a technique known as electroencephalography, or EEG. The technique works like this: Electrodes are placed on the surface of someone’s head; these electrodes can measure the electrical signals produced by the brain’s neurons through the scalp.
However, the experts doubt to efficacy of these sensors and gadgets to accurately “read minds.” First and foremost, we still don’t know how to perfectly record brain signals, says Barry Giesbrecht, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and director of its Attention Lab. “EEG sensors are not only sensitive to brain activity, but any kind of electrical activity,” says Giesbrecht. So blinking or clenching your jaw could lead to a false positive, as could movement and sweat. Plus, while medical EEG uses “wet” sensors applied with a gel, a device like the Chinese hat is dry, and dry sensors are more likely to pick up noise.
Second, the algorithm that interprets the data might not be very good. (It’s hard to know here because, again, the article is low on details.) And finally, while EEG can tell us whether someone is awake or asleep, complex emotional states like depression and anxiety are another story. We don’t yet have a sophisticated enough understanding of which patterns of brain activity match which emotional stages, adds Giesbrecht.
Ma Huajuan, a doctor at the Changhai Hospital in Shanghai, said the facility was working with Fudan University to develop a more sophisticated version of the technology to monitor a patient’s emotions and prevent violent incidents. In additional to the cap, a special camera captures a patient’s facial expression and body temperature. There is also an array of pressure sensors planted under the bed to monitor shifts in body movement. “Together this different information can give a more precise estimate of the patient’s mental status,” she said.
People have also been using fMRI, galvanic skin response, eye-tracking and other biometric approaches to monitor the emotional reaction of test audiences for years. Recently companies have started to use AI to monitor test audiences’ emotions in much more detail through a simple webcam.
In particular, a 2017 paper authored by a collaboration of scientists at USC, Carnegie Mellon University, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center claims to have drawn a bead on some of the biomarkers that differentiate depressed and suicidal patients. During interviews with these groups, they recorded gestures that included smiling, frowning, eye brow raising, and head motioning. The data was then fed into a machine-learning algorithm that looked for correlations between different gestures, alone or in combination, and patient groups.
Specifically, Duchenne smiles versus non-Duchenne smiles held the key to differentiating the groups. A Duchenne smile involves the contraction of muscles surrounding the eyes, while a non-Duchenne smile doesn’t involve the eyes. Those people displaying non-Duchenne smiles were far more likely to possess suicidal ideation than those lacking them.
The combination or fusion of many sensors may allow china to monitor emotional states.
Emotional surveillance adds to a wide surveillance network of facial recognition and internet censorship across China. China is reportedly testing a sophisticated facial recognition system that could closely monitor targeted people in a Muslim-dominant province. The network is installed at residents’ homes and workplaces in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in western China, reported Bloomberg. The new face-reading AI technology would alert the authorities if any suspects leave more than 300 meters (984 feet) beyond the designated ‘safe areas’, said the Bloomberg report quoting an anonymous insider.
Widespread use of emotion monitoring may mark a new stage in China’s surveillance state, which has largely been focused on facial recognition and increasing internet censorship.
Jin also said that employees’ brainwaves can be enough for managers to send them home.
“When the system issues a warning, the manager asks the worker to take a day off or move to a less critical post. Some jobs require high concentration. There is no room for a mistake.”