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Reading the Brain. How in China Monitor the Emotions of Workers

Brain reading technologies are introduced to detect changes in the emotional states of employees. Production saves money. And they prevent misfortunes.

To distinguish human emotions with the help of AI can be different. Some companies train computer vision for this. Others learn algorithms to recognize the emotional state by the tone of a voice in a telephone conversation. Still others analyze the so-called vegetative signs: pulse, pressure, sweat, temperature.

China in all these parameters ahead of the whole planet. Also goes further. To recognize emotions, they read the brain of the observed (of course, without autopsy). The method is efficient, economical, ergonomic. But how to be with privacy? publishes a translation of the South China Morning Post.

But there is one big difference. Workers wear caps that control their brain waves. Then the data is used by managers to adjust production rates and to reorganize work processes. The company claims that it can improve the overall performance of workers by changing the frequency and duration of interruptions to reduce mental stress.

Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric is just one example of large-scale use of brain monitoring devices to monitor people’s emotions and other mental activities in the workplace. So say scientists and companies that participate in projects supported by the government.

Lightweight wireless sensors are hidden in conventional helmets or shaped headgear. They continuously monitor the user’s brain waves and transmit data to computers. The latter use algorithms of artificial intelligence to detect such acute emotional manifestations as depression, anxiety or fury.

By Necessity

The technology is widely used all over the world. But China applies it on an unprecedented scale: in factories, public transport, state companies and the military, in order to increase the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and maintain social stability.

This is also a concern — regulation is necessary so that there are no abuses in the workplace.

The technology is also used in Hangzhou in the state power grid of Zhejiang (State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power). According to Chen Jingzhou, an official who oversees the emotion watch company program, she increased the company&##9;s profit by approximately 2 billion yuan ($ 315 million) from deployment in 2014.

The power company and about 40,000 of its employees manage a power and distribution network for homes and businesses across the province. According to Chen, they were able to provide higher standards for accomplishing the task thanks to the technology of monitoring emotions. However, the official refused to provide more detailed information about the program.

Zhao Binjian, Managing Director of Ningbo Shenyang Logistics, said that the company uses the devices mainly to train new employees. The brain sensors are integrated into virtual reality headsets to simulate various scenarios in the work environment.

“This significantly reduced the number of mistakes made by our employees,” Zhao says. The reason — in the “improved understanding” between employees and the company. Why the technology is used only for trainees, he does not say.

According to the company’s estimates, over the past 2 years, technology has contributed to an increase in revenue of 140 million yuan.

One of the main research centers in China is the Neuro Cap, a central government funded brain observation project at Ningbo University. The program is implemented in more than ten factories and enterprises.

There is No Place for Errors

Jin Jia, associate professor of brain theory and cognitive psychology at Ningbo University Business School, argues that an employee with a high level of emotion in a key position can affect the entire production line. He endangers his own security, as well as the safety of others.

“When the system issues a warning, the manager asks the employee to take a day off or move to a less critical position. Some works require high concentration. There is no room for mistakes,” says Jin.

According to her, initially the workers reacted to the devices with fear and suspicion.

“They thought that we could read their thoughts, which caused some discomfort and resistance at the beginning,” says the senior lecturer. “After a while they got used to the device. He looked and felt like a protective helmet. At work they wore it all day.”

Jin says that currently the brain reading technology in China is on par with the Western development. But China is the only country in which there were reports of mass use of technology in the workplace. In the US, for example, its use is limited to arrows, which try to improve their effectiveness in competitions.

An unprecedented amount of data from users can help the system improve and let China surpass competitors in the next few years. With increasing speed and sensitivity, the device can even become a “mental keyboard” that allows the user to control a computer or mobile phone with the help of thought.

The research team confirmed that the device and technology were used in China’s military operations. But she refused to provide additional information.

Protection from Violent

Technology is also used in medicine. Ma Huajuan, a physician at the Changhai Hospital in Shanghai, said the institution works with Fudan University to develop a more sophisticated version of the technology to monitor patient emotions and prevent violent incidents. In addition to the headgear, a special camera captures the facial expression and body temperature. There are also several pressure sensors installed under the bed to monitor changes in body movement.

“Together, this varied information can give a more accurate assessment of the patient’s mental state,” she said.

Ma says the hospital welcomes this technology and hopes that she will be able to alert medical personnel about a potential outbreak of violence by the patient.

According to her, the patients were informed that their brain activity will be monitored. And the hospital will not activate the devices without the consent of the patient.

Do Not Sleep While Driving

Deayea, a technology company in Shanghai, said that its brain monitoring devices were regularly worn by train drivers who work on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway line – one of the busiest in the world.

According to the company’s website, the sensors are built into the edges of the driver’s cap and can measure various brain activities, including fatigue and loss of attention. Accuracy is more than 90 percent. For example, if the driver dozed off, the cap will turn on the alarm in the cab to wake him up.

Zheng Xingwu, a professor of management at the University of Civil Aviation of China, said that China could become the first country in the world to introduce a brain observation device in the cockpit.

“Most of the accidents were caused by human factors, and the pilot in an alarming emotional state could endanger the entire aircraft,” Zheng said.

According to him, putting on a headdress before take-off will give airlines additional information to determine if the pilot is suitable for the flight.

“The government’s impact on airlines and pilots in China is probably greater than in many other countries. If the authorities decide to implement the devices in the cockpit, I do not think they can be stopped, ” says Zheng. “This means that pilots may have to sacrifice part of their personal lives for public safety.”

Hello, Orwell?

Qiao Zhian, professor of psychology at the Beijing Pedagogical University, notes that although devices can make businesses more competitive, companies can abuse technology to control minds and violate privacy, like a “police of thoughts.”

(The “Police of Thoughts” is the secret police in George Orwell’s novel “1984”, which investigated and punished people for personal and political thoughts not approved by the authorities).

“There is no law or regulation restricting the use of such equipment in China. An employer may have a strong incentive to use technology to make more profit. And employees, as a rule, are too weak to say No”, – says Qiao.

He adds: selling data to Facebook is pretty bad. But watching the brain can bring confidentiality to a whole new level.

“Legislators must act now to limit the use of monitoring emotions and give workers more opportunities to protect their interests,” Qiao says. “The human mind should not be exploited for profit.”