In China, a “thought reader” helmet to curb pornography

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In China, a "mind reader" headset to curb pornography

© GREG BAKER/AFP/Archives This helmet would read the subconscious of censors to ensure that no explicit image escapes their careful control.

To ensure strict regulation of the digital activity of Chinese citizens, the government ensures permanent monitoring of online media, platforms and the use of different tools (social networks, Internet, video games, etc.) Of course, the content pornography is also closely monitored by the police, and censored, to ensure respect for the mores and values ​​of the state. To help enforce this censorship of pornography in China, researchers have just developed a “mind-reading” device that aims to replace artificial intelligence.

In China, watching porn is a crime

There is a national porn censorship policy. As the South China Morning Post reminds us, viewing pornography is a crime in China, and the country has several processes in place to analyze content posted on the internet and social media, so that it can identify problematic content and delete it.

To carry out this particular surveillance, China has set up a team of porn policemen called “jian huang shi”, which means “porn evaluator”. These are positions occupied mainly by women, who scour the photos and videos available on the Internet in search of nudity. But humans get tired when they perform a task very repetitively, and fatigue breeds errors. “Explicit” pornographic content therefore goes unnoticed, despite surveillance. To avoid this, artificial intelligence reinforces the large team of controllers, who use algorithms to carry out the necessary censorship without getting too tired.

A helmet that reads the minds of censors

But that still seems insufficient. This is why researchers at Beijing Jiaotong University have created a helmet capable of tracking the brain waves of those who wear it, always with the aim of helping “porn evaluators”. The scientists published their findings in the national Journal of Electronic Measurement and Instrumentation earlier this month.

This helmet would read into the subconscious of censors to ensure that no explicit image escapes this meticulous control. The researchers said that the performance of the human eye and brain, when recognizing images, was far superior to that of artificial intelligence: a nude image, even if it is only shown for half a second among a stream of other images, provokes a reaction in the observer.

The headset, which is able to pick up any spike in brainwaves resulting from explicit content, can therefore flag images missed by the operator. The overall accuracy of this technology is 80%, which the team explains by the lack of training materials during its development.

Limits and regulations

Researchers admit that the device is far from perfect. Although it was able to detect almost all of the pornographic content, it also raised false alarms. In addition to this margin of error, another aspect calls into question the effectiveness demonstrated in the test phase: while the technology was tested by 15 male volunteers, the “jian huang shi” are often women, who may not have the same brain reaction to pornographic images.

Such “thought readers” are already being used in China, especially by some companies that control their employees under the pretext of improving the productivity and reduce construction accidents. However, no law yet governs the use of these devices and the information they may collect.