Companies In China Are Monitoring Employees Emotions With AI

More than a dozen Chinese companies are reportedly using the technology to monitor the emotions of workers in high-stress jobs.
Jessica Miley

Companies in China are using brain sensors to monitor the emotions of their workers. Some construction, manufacturing and transport companies in China require workers to wear helmets fitted with brain sensors that use AI technology to monitor their emotions. 

Spokespeople for the scheme say that the system saves money by helping workers and training them better, but critics worry about the control that companies have over employees. The devices fit onto the helmets of workers which then measures the brain activity of the wearer, these waves can be analyzed to look for changes in emotion. 

Spikes and dips in the brainwaves can be read as changes in emotions and feelings associated with panic, fatigue, and sadness. The devices are reportedly being used on workers in high-stress jobs such as high-speed train conducting and electricians working on main power stations. 

Devices can wake up workers if they doze off

The sensors also have the ability to measure if a worker is dozing off and sound an alarm to make them more alert. One official who runs the “emotional surveillance” program at the State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power told Chinese media that the devices are essential to running an efficient business. 

The company's profits have reportedly grown by $315 million since the company began using the devices in 2014. According to The South China Morning Post, there are more than a dozen company in China using the technology that was developed by the government-funded brain surveillance project Neuro Cap, based out of Ningbo University. 

"They thought we could read their mind. This caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning," Jin Jia, a professor of brain science at Ningbo University told the Post. "After a while they got used to the device... They wore it all day at work." 

Workers asked to go home if deemed too stressed.

While keeping workers safe is an employer responsibility, the monitoring can also identify workers that the company deems too stressed for work. The consequences of being found in a stressed state range from workers being asked to take unpaid breaks for dismissing or demoting them. 

The figures for the amount of false positive flags by the devices is unknown. It is possible there are many workers who have been unfairly dismissed or missed out on necessary paid work time through false diagnosis. 

"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,” says Jia. 

China has no regulations about what employers can monitor about their employees. Qiao Zhian, professor of management psychology at Beijing Normal University, told the Morning Post. “The human mind should not be exploited for profit. 

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.”