If you have been very perturbed, like most people, with the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook data mining scandal, you will not be happy to know that the worst is yet to come. Data mining pales in front of what is happening in a lot of Chinese companies - data mining directly from the workers' brains and controlling productivity levels. This is done with the help of uniform caps or safety helmets that workers wear during their shifts.
A report in Hong-Kong-based South China Morning Post looked into Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric that researches on, develops, produces and distributes high frequency switch power supply systems to understand how this technology works. They found that the workers wear caps that monitor their brainwaves and data that is used by the management to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows. The company can manipulate the frequency and length of breaks taken by the workers to increase efficiency and reduce stress.
How this works is that there are lightweight sensors concealed within uniform caps and safety helmets that continuously monitor the wearer's brainwaves and send the information across to computers. These computers, in turn use AI to keep a tab on emotional spikes including rage, anxiety and even depression.
Stephen Chen, the author of the report mentions that although this technology is available across the world, it is only in China where it has been used in such a huge scale. This technology is used across Chinese factories, state-owned companies, military and public transport to maintain its lead in the manufacturing sector and to maintain social stability.
With the help of this technology that has increased efficiency, Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric has made profits of USD 315 million since 2014 when it was introduced.
Jin Jia, Associate Professor of Brain Science and Cognitive Psychology at Ningbo University's business school mentioned that a highly emotional employee in an important post could "affect an entire production line, jeopardising his or her own safety as well as that of others". She added that when the system flags a warning, the manager urges the worker to take a day off or moves them to a less critical post. Ningbo University has one of the main centres of research on brain surveillance in the country, Neuro Cap, that's central government-funded.
Jia also said that initially workers were scared and there was a resistance to the device. "They thought we could read their mind. This caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning. 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," she said according to the SCMP report.
The Changhai Hospital in Shanghai is working with Fudan University to develop a more sophisticated version of the device that would scan a person's facial expressions and body temperature. Ma Huajuan, a doctor at the facility said this could detect potential violent outbursts and warn the medical staff beforehand.
Train drivers working in the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line wear brain monitoring devices manufactured by tech company Deayea. The sensors map all kinds of brain activities, including fatigue and attention loss with 90% accuracy. In case the driver dozes off, the sensor would trigger an alarm in the cabin to wake the individual up.
Similarly, the device has been put to use in the aviation industry as well to detect if the pilot is fit to fly.
Invoking George Orwell's 'thought police' from his novel Nighteen Eighty-Four, Qiao Zhian, Professor of Management Psychology at Beijing Normal University said that while the device helps in making headway in business, it could also be used to control minds and infringe privacy. He added that while employers have huge incentives to use this technology, employees are always in a rather weak position to say no.
"The selling of Facebook data is bad enough. Brain surveillance can take privacy abuse to a whole new level," he said.