In a bizarre attempt to improve employee morale, Canon’s Beijing office has installed Artificial Intelligence cameras, which deny any action unless they detect a smile on the face.
If that story had been published in a satirical medium, it would be criticized as crude and exaggerated; But it is real, and it is not new. Canon introduced this technology last year, but it went unnoticed amid the pandemic and the expansion of teleworking; now, employees at its Chinese subsidiary, Canon Information Technology, are seeing the effects on work first-hand.
These devices are small screens with cameras , which are installed next to doors, printers and in meeting rooms; They include five functions, including facial identification to allow authorized employees to pass through permitted areas. But first, they will have to smile.
If the camera does not detect a smile, it will display an emoji in the upper left, encouraging the person to show their joy; regardless of your actual mood, of course. Employees who don’t smile are seriously limited : they can’t print documents, schedule a meeting, or enter certain rooms. Because they can’t, they can’t even change the room temperature on the thermostat.
Canon has defended the measure, stating that it is based on a corporate culture of “always on the go,” and that it encourages the concepts of “laugh” and “great health.” She wants to create a “positive atmosphere” , because she considers that most people do not smile just because “they are too shy”. At Canon they seem to believe that if they force employees to smile, they will gradually keep the smile on their faces by improving the office.
Canon’s smile detection camera system
One wonders if a fake smile, necessary to fulfill a task as basic as making a photocopy, really serves to change the atmosphere for the better. But to consider that would be to not understand the true purpose of these devices. At its core, this is just another surveillance system for the office, in which all the actions of the employees are controlled; Forcing them to smile is just another way for them to be aware that they are being watched, rather than swiping a card.
Although this type of practice is spreading around the world, China is the pioneer in surveillance systems within the office. For now, it does not appear that Canon is succeeding in its attempt to improve the office environment; According to Nikkei Asia , there are already employees who are using the Chinese social network Weibo to complain, although not directly against Canon. One user affirms that “companies no longer only manipulate our time, but also our emotions.”