It’s no secret that many managers would want to get into their employees’ thoughts. And, regrettably for those employees, it appears that they are beginning to do so.
In recent years, a number of firms have emerged, providing employers mind-reading equipment for their workers. InnerEye, for example, is an Israeli company that claims its headsets combine machine learning with the innate power of the human mind, allowing workers to eliminate indecision and work more quickly than ever before. With wireless EEG headsets, Emotiv, a San Francisco startup, claims to be able to track employees’ well-being.
“InnerEyes blends the best of both worlds by linking humans and robots,” according to the company’s website.
Dystopian? Sure. These businesses, however, are not anomalies. According to IEEE Spectrum, this is a booming field in which employers are beginning to invest.
The general pitch for this device class is familiar, if not convenient: it’s a tool not only for enhancing productivity, but for ensuring employee wellness. They might technically be monitoring employees, but only for their sake. In helping employees make quick, almost mindless decisions, InnerEye’s AI turns everyday workers into super-humans. Emotiv just wants to keep workers happy.
“The dystopian potential of this technology is not lost on us,” Tan Le, Emotiv’s CEO and cofounder, told Spectrum. “So we are very cognizant of choosing partners that want to introduce this technology in a responsible way — they have to have a genuine desire to help and empower employees.”
Importantly, this employee-forward marketing approach distinguishes these devices — in branding efforts, at least — from “bossware,” a growing field of consumer tech committed to offering employee surveillance in a remote work-driven world.
Still, marketing is just that: marketing, and given the prevalence of datamining and the steady rise of bossware, hesitant employees can be forgiven for feeling incredulous towards mind-reading headsets, particularly for their privacy’s sake. (For their part, Emotiv’s Le told Spectrum that the data from its EEGs belongs to the worker, who has to “explicitly allow a copy of it to be shared anonymously” with higher-ups.)
But even privacy aside, the jury’s still out on whether workforces actually want this stuff. But based on the apparent interest from some employers, it may not ultimately be some folks’ choice.
“I think there is significant interest from employers,” Karen Rommelfanger, who founded the Institute of Neuroethics, told Spectrum. “I don’t know if there’s significant interest from employees.”