“It’s All in Your Head”

May 8, 2018

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed—would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper—the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”  –1984

In George Orwell’s dystopian world, everyone is kept under strict control by the Thought Police. That’s something that could never happen in the real world. Right?

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It came out recently that some companies in China are using “brain-scanning” helmets. The helmets have built-in EEG sensors and apparently are being used in a government-sponsored project for employees in factories, transportation, and the military. According to an article in IFLScience, “These sensors monitor the electrical activity in the brain of the wearer before sending the data to an algorithm, which then interprets this information into a particular emotion.” It’s supposed to let bosses and supervisors know what possible emotions their workers may be feeling and then alter their schedules to make them more productive.

I don’t think you have to worry about this kind of technology showing up on your job site any time soon. According to MIT Technology Review, the helmets probably don’t work, “Over-the-skin brain scanning through EEG is still very limited in what it can detect, and the relationship between those signals and human emotion is not yet clear.”

IFLScience says, “In truth, EEG technology just isn’t that advanced—at least, it isn’t that advanced yet. For starters, non-invasive EEG is ‘very limited’ and would have a hard time detecting brain patterns, let alone interpreting them as different emotions. It can also be confused by outside signals (for example, a mobile phone), which would distort the result and produce a false reading.”

Before the technology is ever perfected, there is the question of whether this is an invasion of privacy.

Here’s something to think about: Companies in China are already using Fitbits and other wearable devices to monitor the health and productivity of their employees. Is it possible for your boss to ask you for access to yours? And what about all the tech they’re building into heavy equipment that can monitor and collect data on everything inside and outside of the machine? Do you think they’ll come up with sensors that can keep track of your body temperature, facial expressions, body mobility, and heart rate? They already have cameras that can detect when an operator is dozing off. A brain-scanning helmet might not even be needed if someone comes up with a way to make sensors good enough to scan a worker inside the cab of a wheel loader or even from a hilltop overlooking the job site.

Am I being paranoid?