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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Look lively: Big Brother is watching

A Chinese high school installed cameras that monitor students’ facial expressions, reports Don Lee in the Los Angeles Times. Artificial intelligence software grouped “each face into one of seven emotions: anger, fear, disgust, surprise, happiness, sadness and what was labeled as neutral.”

. . . the surveillance cameras took the data on individual facial expressions and used that information to create a running “score” on each student and class. If a score reached a predetermined point, the system triggered an alert. Teachers were expected to take action: to talk to a student perceived to be disengaged, for example, or overly moody. School administrators reckoned the data could provide feedback for teachers as well, about their lectures and classroom management . . .

Most students hated it, especially when the software said they weren’t paying attention, reports Lee.

“If you feel angry, you need to control yourself,” said Zhu Juntao, 17, using his two forefingers to press up the ends of his mouth, as if smiling. Some students went so far as to figure out how to game the system by feigning what the cameras’ designers wanted to see. . . . No matter how tired or boring the lecture was, they said the trick was to look straight ahead.

The school stopped using the system when parents complained it was intrusive, but may bring it back in the future.  

A company called RealNetworks is offering schools free facial-recognition software — billed as a way to keep intruders out — reports Issie Lapowsky on Wire. The SAFR tool can be downloaded from the web site.

RealNetworks’ founder Rob Glaser offered SAFR to his child’s private school in Seattle, which has a gate with a camera. Adults who register their faces can unlock the gate automatically “by smiling at a camera,” writes Lapowsky. “Smiling tells the software that it’s looking at a live person and not, for instance, a photograph.”

The school doesn’t use the system for children.

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