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AI headbands tracking student attention levels suspended amidst online controversy

By Xian Jiangnan (People's Daily Online)    17:41, November 01, 2019

 

Students use BrainCo’s headbands in class. (Screenshot from the Wall Street Journal's video) 

The local education bureau suspended AI headbands designed to track student attention levels on Thursday, after they sparked online controversy across the country.

Recently, China's social media went into overdrive after pictures emerged showing students wearing BrainCo Focus headbands at a primary school in Jinhua, east China's Zhejiang province, with many users expressing concerns that the product would violate the privacy of students, with many doubtful that the bands would really improve learning efficiency.

Responding to public controversy, the local education bureau in Zhejiang Province on October 31 said that it had suspended the use of the device and asked schools to conduct self-inspection to ensure that the data collected by the headbands could not be leaked, according to a report from The Beijing News.

On the same day, BrainCo issued a statement on its official Weibo account saying the headband had been designed to help students focus through neurofeedback instead of personally monitoring students.

"Neurofeedback training is a widely-used brain training method with a scientific basis. Related products developed by BrainCo have been exported to 15 countries and are widely used by schools, including the Catholic Memorial School, Yale Summer School, Cambridge School of Weston and other well-known American schools," said the statement.

However, the technology has received plenty of criticism from netizens. In an online survey initiated by Economic Daily, 88 percent of 3,362 internet users surveyed thought it unnecessary or even unacceptable to use technology to monitor whether students focus in class.

"I doubt the effects of this smart headband. Whether it is because of the product itself or its psychological effect remains to be further verified. It is a wise move to suspend it," said one Weibo user. 

On e-commerce giant JD.com, the headbands are priced between 3,499 yuan and 4,299 yuan. (Screenshot from JD.com)

The BrainCo Focus headband hit the market earlier this year. It uses electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to measure brain signals and uses an AI algorithm to transmit and then translate signals into real-time focus levels. On e-commerce giant JD.com, the headbands are priced between 3,499 yuan ($497) and 4,299 yuan ($625).

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, expressed doubts over implementing technology to improve performance in class, saying it might have a negative effect as students could end up relying on machines to improve their concentration rather than teachers' guidance, which could go on to weaken teaching ability.

"With external supervision and machine-assisted monitoring, students will find themselves under pressure and be forced to improve their attention levels. But under these circumstances, students may develop a performative personality, and the data obtained in this way is not credible or real," Xiong told The Beijing News.

Alumna Kong Xiaoxian, BrainCo's angel investor, donated the 50 headbands used in the primary school, said the manager of BrainCo's Public Relations Department. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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