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Researchers develop a 'mind-reading' device to help censor porn in China

The country already uses artificial intelligence to identify explicit images on the internet.

Researchers develop a 'mind-reading' device to help censor porn in China
Watching porn is a crime in China Fotografixx/iStock

A group of researchers at Beijing Jiaotong University in China have developed and tested a 'mind-reading' device that will help implement the country's policy of censoring porn, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported

Watching porn is a crime in China, and the country has put in place several processes to scan the internet and social media platforms for explicit content and take it down. This includes the extensive use of artificial intelligence (A.I.) to flag content and also employing a large number of professional censors.

Called jian huang shi or "porn appraiser" these are positions held mostly by women who scour the photos and videos available on the internet in China. However, humans assigned to a task grow tired when doing it repeatedly, and fatigue throws up errors. Even A.I. algorithms can not pick all images, so some content still manages to slip unnoticed.

Combining Human response with technology

The device developed by the research team tries to maximize the efficiency of porn detection by tapping into the human brain's abilities and then tracking them with available technology. 

Speaking to SCMP, the researchers said that the performance of the human eye and brain at image recognition was far superior that A.I. -based algorithms. This was especially true when images contained complex backgrounds. 

During their research, the team had found that a nude image, even if it was shown for half a second amongst a stream of other images, raised the eyebrows of an observer. The researchers claim that the designed helmet can pick any spike in brainwaves that would result from explicit content. 

When worn by a jian huang shi, the helmet could take up the task of displaying images to the professional censor and continue to flip through a large number of images until the brain waves spiked and flag the content for removal.

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The researchers also claimed that their device was sophisticated enough to adapt to brain waves of various censors and that it could filter out brain waves caused by other activities such as emotions, weariness, or even thoughts.

The device was tested in a group of 15 male volunteers between the ages of 20-25 years. To comply with the national law against pornographic content, the sensitive bits of images had to be covered up during the testing phase. 

The problems with the technology

The researchers also told SCMP that the technology worked almost every time an explicit image was displayed but also threw up some false alarms. The overall accuracy of the technology stood at 80 percent which the team also attributes to the lack of sufficient training material while developing this technology.

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Apart from that, there is also the unanswered question about the role of gender in the detection process. The 15 volunteers that signed up for the study were all males, while women often took up the roles of jian huang shi in the country. 

The biggest question, however, is whether such technology can be used at all. Some factories in China use brain surveillance devices or robots to monitor workers' attention and emotions to improve productivity and decrease worksite accidents. However, there is no law that governs the use of such devices and the information they can gather, a researcher who was not involved in the research told SCMP on the condition of anonymity. 

The research was published in a domestic peer-review journal, Journal of Electronic Measurement and Instrumentation earlier this month

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