Canon Uses AI Cameras That Only Let Smiling Workers Inside Offices

This may sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but Canon has rolled out new AI cameras that use “smile recognition” technology to ensure that only happy employees are allowed into its offices.

Back in 2020, the China-based Canon subsidiary Canon Information Technology introduced an “intelligent IT solution” for corporate offices that includes 5 different functional modules, one of which is “smiley face access control.”

“In addition, based on the corporate culture of ‘moving and always being’, Canon has always advocated the concepts of ‘laughing’ and ‘big health’, and hopes to bring happiness and health to everyone in the post-epidemic era,” Canon wrote in a press release. “Therefore, in the […] intelligent IT solution, a new experience of smile recognition is specially incorporated. It is hoped that smiles can let everyone relax and get healthy, so as to create a more pleasant working atmosphere and improve efficiency.”

In a new report about tech workers in China being subjected to surveillance tech, Nikkei Asia writes that Canon Information Technology has deployed these AI cameras at its Beijing headquarters to only allow smiling employees to enter the offices or book conference rooms.

Some workers, however, are speaking out about the intrusiveness of such technology.

“So now the companies are not only manipulating our time, but also our emotions,” one worker wrote on Weibo (the popular Chinese microblogging service), according to the report.

Canon China is defending the tech, reiterating that it’s designed to promote a positive atmosphere.

“We have been wanting to encourage employees to create a positive atmosphere by utilizing this system with the smile detection setting ‘on’,” a spokesperson tells Nikkei. “Mostly, people are just too shy to smile, but once they get used to smiles in the office, they just keep their smiles without the system which created a positive and lively atmosphere.”

Canon’s use of AI cameras for enforcing happiness may feel strange, creepy, or alarming, but it’s just one of many ways surveillance technology is creeping into the workplace in countries all around the world.

“AI-enabled smile recognition cameras are in many ways the least dangerous types of surveillance technology,” The Verge writes. “They have the benefit of being obvious. Other systems of control are much more subtle, and probably coming to an office near you sometime soon.”

Face recognition and detection technology has come a long way in consumer cameras in recent years, but as these new AI cameras show, the technology has a wide range of applications beyond making sure photo subjects are well-posed.