Chinese companies are picking their employees’ brains — literally — with mind-reading devices designed to improve efficiency and performance, according to a new report.
Workers are being outfitted with safety helmet-like caps that monitor brain waves and send the information to computers that use artificial intelligence algorithms to detect emotional spikes, like depression, anxiety and rage, South China Morning Post reported.
The Orwellian technology has been used on factory employees, train conductors and workers at State Grid Zhejian Electric Power.
State Grid, which has 40,000 employees who manage the power supply to homes and businesses across Hangzhou province, said the company’s profits have increased by about $315 million since it implemented the surveillance caps in 2014.
“There is no doubt about its effect,” said Cheng Jingzhou, who oversees the company’s surveillance program.
The government-funded brain-monitoring project, called Neuro Cap, has been implemented in more than a dozen factories and businesses.
Jin Jia, an associate professor of brain science and cognitive psychology at Ningbo University, which is hosting the project, said the brain caps allow workers to be better managed.
They could help prevent an emotional production-line worker from having a total meltdown.
“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,” she said.
Jin acknowledged that at first, workers were skeptical about their bosses tapping into their heads.
“They thought we could read their mind. This caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning,” she said. “After a while they got used to the device. It looked and felt just like a safety helmet. They wore it all day at work.”
The brain-surveillance devices are also being worn by train conductors along the busy high-speed Beijing-Shanghai line, according to Shanghai technology company Deayea.
Sensors that are located in the brim of the drivers’ hats can monitor fatigue and attention loss with more than 90 percent accuracy — as well as trigger an alert in the cabin if the driver dozes off.
Qiao Zhian, professor of management psychology at Beijing Normal University, said the devices could give companies a competitive boost — but warned they could also violate privacy in the worst way.
“There is no law or regulation to limit the use of this kind of equipment in China. The employer may have a strong incentive to use the technology for higher profit, and the employees are usually in too weak a position to say no,” he said. “The selling of Facebook data is bad enough. Brain surveillance can take privacy abuse to a whole new level.”
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