The U.S. brain research company Emotiv has developed a brain-scanning device with precisely two electrodes, one for each ear. That’s right, it looks like standard ear pods, and functions like them too. Olivier Oullier, the company’s president, says Emotiv’s device allows users to listen to music or participate in a conference call—and for Emotive to track the user’s brain function.
The company focuses on two measurements, stress and distraction. Oullier says both affect productivity, and his company is focusing on the two conditions from a workplace perspective. “We expect our brains to conform to the workplace,” says Oullier. “It should be the other way around. Our workplaces should adapt to our brains.”
Oullier spoke Thursday morning in Guanzghou, at Fortune’s third annual Global Tech Forum, a gathering in southern China of Chinese and western technology executives, investors, and entrepreneurs. The conference is focused on topics such as the development of 5G technology, advances in healthcare, and U.S.-China relations.
The Emotiv president, formerly an official with the World Economic Forum, took pains to stress the steps Emotive is taking to keep private and anonymous the data it collects, and also to use it ethically and legally. It is working with the software maker SAP to jointly develop workplace products that could improve efficiency.
Despite Oullier’s assurances, there’s an obvious creepiness factor at play with its user-friendly brain-scanning. A jointly produced Emotiv-SAP video demonstrating the technology included a narrator saying: “We can detect when you’ve lost focus.” It’s clearly meant as a good thing, as in, ‘We can help you manage through that, know when you need to take a break, and otherwise learn how to personalize a schedule that’s best for you.’
But it’s easy to see how a South Park episode might imagine the downside of such technology, like zapping a worker who has lost productivity-sapping focus.
“We are shaping a vision to revolutionize workplace learning,” the video says.
The societal details of that shaping are yet to be completely determined.
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