‘Mind-Reading’ Cap Keeps Men from Watching Porn in China Where the Content Is Illegal

A “mind-reading” device developed by scientists at Beijing Jiaotong University in China is able to detect when men are watching porn and sounds an alarm as the illicit content is illegal in the country.

Although porn is beyond normalized in the U.S.—whether for good or bad—it is, apparently, utterly illegal in China. To help aid in combating the spread of porn in the country, a team of scientists at Beijing Jiaotong University has developed a “mind-reading” cap that can read men’s minds and sound an alarm when they’re watching illicit content. Particularly “porn appraisers”—a.k.a. jian huang shi—whose job it is to rid the Chinese internet of the material.

The South China Morning Post reports that the device could “speed up the work” of these porn appraisers (which the outlet refers to literally as “censors”) by alerting them—with an alarm—as to when they’re seeing pornographic material. These appraisers—much like Facebook content reviewers, it seems—scan thousands upon thousands of images and videos every day on the look out for porn. The problem is sometimes they miss images: this cap is supposed to solve that problem.

Image: Beijing Jiaotong University

According to the scientists, who published their research the Journal of Electronic Measurement and Instrumentation, the cap is able to pick up on a spike in brainwaves triggered by a wearer seeing explicit content. The researchers tested the cap on 15 male university students between the ages of 20 and 25 as they watched images flit one after another on a computer screen; sounding an “alarm” any time one of the wearer’s saw (somewhat) pornographic images amidst normal, acceptable ones.

“The prototype device proved that human-machine collaboration was feasible ‘for bad information detection,'” Xu Jianjun, director of the electrical engineering experiment center at Beijing Jiaotong University told the Post. As the news outlet notes, human eyes and brains still outperform machines—which utilize machine-learning algorithms—when detecting porn; at least some of the time, particularly when the images contain complex backgrounds.

An example of a “mind-reading” cap from an unrelated endeavor. Image: Chris Hope

There are, however, significant limitations of the mind reading cap. Jianjun et al. say, for example, that it detects false positives 20% of the time. “Training” the cap’s ability to detect porn-related brainwave spikes—that is, training the algorithms that detect porn-related brainwave spikes detected by the cap—was limited as the team had to cover up “the most sensitive areas” of sample images. The Post also notes many porn appraisers are women, but no women took part in the study.

Although it may seem quite odd, porn is indeed illegal in China, and can land producers or distributors in jail—sometimes for life. As Slate noted in a 2009 article, however, “It’s unclear… what the government considers pornographic” as the law governing what is considered pornographic is vague.

The Post ends its article by noting that “Some factories in China used brain surveillance devices to prevent work accidents by monitoring workers’ attention and emotions,” and that “Another recent study by Chinese scientists found that a mind-reading robot could work side-by-side with humans to increase the productivity of an assembly line.” Indeed, lots of China’s scientists seem enamored with brain-reading tech, as the country even has “brain-control weapons” capable of “paralyzing enemies.”

Feature image: Beijing Jiaotong University

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