face recognition
(Photo : Pixabay/Tumisu) Canon face recognition

Canon has come up with a new technology to tackle the issue of workplace morale. The tech company has installed cameras that are artificial intelligence-enabled with smile recognition technology in its Chinese subsidiary Canon Information Technology offices.

Canon's Smile Recognition Technology

According to The Verge, the cameras will only let smiling workers enter workrooms or book meetings, ensuring that every employee is happy and bright before they begin their shift.

The Financial Times reported that Chinese companies are now surveilling employees with A.I. and algorithms. For example, companies are monitoring which employees use on their computers to check their productivity, using CCTV cameras to measure how long they take on their breaks, and even tracking the movements of the employees outside of the office using apps.

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Nick Srnicek from King's College London told Financial Times that algorithms and artificial intelligence are not replacing the employees.

Instead, the management is being augmented by these technologies. Srnicek added that technologies are increasing the pace for those who work with machines instead of the other way around, like what happened during the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

Canon announced its smile recognition cameras in 2020 as part of a suite of workplace management tools, but it did not get too much attention at the time. The fact that the technology did not get enough buzz shows just how common surveillance tools are becoming.

China is not the only country that is known to track every movement of its employees. This behavior is also notorious in the United Kingdom and the United States companies.

Amazon is the prime example of this, as it is known for monitoring every single movement of its warehouse workers at the expense of their mental and physical health and even ranking their productivity using algorithms before firing employees who were at the bottom of the scale.

Modern-Day Taylorism

Blue-collar jobs are not the only ones who are under this surveillance. A lot of modern software suites like Microsoft 365 come with built-in surveillance tools.

With more people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, more companies are deploying these strict features for fear of losing control over their employees. 

AI-enabled smile recognition technology is the least dangerous type of surveillance technology because they are obvious, unlike apps and CCTV cameras that sometimes track workers without them knowing.

Despite the rise of these types of technology, trade unions are fighting for workers' privacy. According to Computer Weekly, a U.K.-based trade union called UTAW was established to represent and fight workers' interests in the tech industry.

UTAW spokesperson Marcus Storm stated that the idea of forming a union for tech workers and non-tech workers employed by tech companies began in early 2020. Still, it has come into being over the past six months.

Storm added that the founders of UTAW felt that they did not have much of a voice as tech workers in the U.K. The overall experience of work for many in the post-80s U.K. has been one of diminishing collective power.

As a result, Storm said that the level of awareness around unions in the tech sector is still very low, which UTAW is attempting to overcome through its employee surveillance campaign.

With trade unions voicing their concerns over the treatment of employees, there is a possibility that these types of technology or A.I. may change to give workers more space to breathe.

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Written by Sophie Webster

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