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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Monitoring Brainwaves of Employees Growing in China

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, use of brain-reading technology to detect changes in the emotional states of employees is increasingly common in Chinese factories, public transport, state-owned companies and the military.  Wireless sensors concealed in safety helmets or uniform hats stream brainwave data to computers that use AI algorithms to detect emotional spikes, such as depression, anxiety, rage of fatigue.  Use of the technology in safety-sensitive positions, such as high-speed train operators or airline pilots, or amongst workers on a high-tech assembly line, where a single over-stressed employee could bring down an entire production line, has evident value.  The same can be said of using it to monitor employee responses in virtual reality training sessions.

However, where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate usage of the technology is a challenge.  Should it be used to increase the speed of a production line to the maximum its workers can tolerate?  To sideline, demote or discipline employees?  To assess the response of employees to company pronouncements?  There is clearly a slippery slope from reasonable usage to that which is not, conjuring up Orwell’s thought police.  Are workers surrendering their autonomy when their brainwaves are being read?  Do they have any protections against abuse of the technology?  Furthermore, according to a note in the MIT Technology Review, what can be reliably detected about human emotions from over-the-skin EEG sensors is still fairly unclear. 

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