China develops an “emotional surveillance” system that allows supervisors to use mind-reading hats to spot emotional employees

Good managers stay on top of their workers, ensuring they are productive but also connecting with them as people to foster employee satisfaction. However, in China, these sentiments go way too far as some companies are now using “emotional surveillance” systems to track workers’ emotions.

According to the South China Morning Post, a government-backed project uses hats that can scan the brainwaves of employees to look for signs of emotional distress. It entails embedding lightweight sensors into their helmets or hats and then wirelessly transmitting their brainwave data to computers. Artificial intelligence algorithms are then used to scan the data and single out any outliers that point to a worker feeling rage or anxiety – and it wouldn’t be surprising if they’re finding plenty of the latter!

In some businesses, these systems are in place during routine work, Futurism reports, and others are using them just in training. Some of the firms known to use it include a manufacturing company, an electric company, public transport, state-owned businesses and the military. No concrete numbers are available, but it’s said to be used “on an unprecedented scale” in Chinese businesses and factories.

Proponents say that the goal is to boost employee morale before a person becomes too angry, anxious or depressed. For example, if the system identifies someone as showing signs of these emotions, they might be asked to take a day off or moved to a less important position. Jobs that require a lot of concentration are particularly concerned about emotional state.

Surveillance is a way of life in China

It’s all par for the course in China, were people are subjected to facial recognition cameras everywhere they go, social activity and income are monitored actively by the government, and surveillance is considered commonplace. Contrast this with the U.S.; while most American companies do monitor their employees’ internet usage to ensure no one is wasting company time, analyzing their brain waves is pretty much unheard of.

What exactly are these businesses doing with the data they collect? It’s not a leap to imagine it’s being shared with the government as they created the technology. Is it prone to hacking? Can people be unfairly singled out? Could someone lose an important position just because they were having a bad day? How accurate is it? There are a lot of questions that spring to mind when you think about this hugely invasive technology.

MIT Technology Review is understandably skeptical, pointing out that EEG over-the-skin brain scans are still pretty limited in terms of what they’re able to detect, and they cast serious doubt on State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power’s claims that these systems are gathering enough data to boost profits by $315 million.

There are also concerns about what these wireless sensors that are actively streaming data can do to a person when they’re worn over long periods of time so close to their brains. It will be interesting to see if there are rises in cancer or other illnesses among those who are subjected to this type of monitoring. When you consider the fact that many experts recommend you keep your cell phone a safe distance away from your body and your head in particular, it’s hard to imagine these hats not having a negative impact on workers’ health. Workers who desperately need their job probably don’t have much say over the matter; many likely feel pressured into using the system if they want to feed their families.

Chatting with workers and understanding their home life can help bosses determine the best way to interact with people and get the most out of them, but reading their minds with creepy surveillance hats and then reassigning them if they show signs of being emotional is downright frightening. Read for more coverage of government tyranny.

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