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Computer System Counters Hen Horrors

Monitoring how flocks walk can prevent attacks by mad chickens

3 min read

Robotics engineer Stephen Roberts was taking his lunch at Somerville College at the University of Oxford, in England, when the conversation turned to chicken. It wasn't the food, though. His dining companion was animal welfare specialist Marian Dawkins, and she thought that the pattern-recognition technology Roberts was explaining might help identify misbehaving hens.

Laying hens aren't ordinarily antisocial, but under the stress of incarceration, they are known to peck one another, sometimes to death. It usually starts with a couple of chickens and can spread quickly. Once a bird starts to peck, others follow suit. For poultry farmers, the behavior is costly and difficult to deter. Many farmers resort to clipping the chickens' beaks, but some countries ban the practice on humanitarian grounds. Environmental adjustments, such as dimming the lights or improving foraging material, can prevent attacks, but those work only if farmers know which hens need the changes, and each adjustment has its costs.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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