Turning Humans Into Algos – The Trend of Employees Wearing “Biosensing Wearable Devices” at Work

Turning Humans Into Algos – The Trend of Employees Wearing “Biosensing Wearable Devices” at Work

Michael Krieger | Posted Wednesday Aug 12, 2015 at 10:01 am

The future is here.

Just yesterday, I published an article titled, “Minority Report”-esque Big Brother Billboards are Coming to England. Here’s an excerpt in case you missed it:

Much of the shift is being driven by today’s enhanced data-collection and analysis power. Ocean’s three new billboards in Birmingham, shaped like large human eyes, will broadcast ads like regular digital billboards, but have the ability to change based on how many of a certain group are within “eyesight” of the camera.

But software will analyze the feeds to pick up facial features and how long a person looked at an advertisement, according to Olivier Duizabo, chief executive of Quividi, the company that made the software.

Today, I came across a Bloomberg article that highlighted how some companies, particularly hedge funds looking for an edge, are having employees wear “biosensing wearable devices,” in order to collect detailed analytics about them and hopefully improve performance.

We learn that:

The future of the high-performance workplace is taking shape behind closed doors and kept quiet by non-disclosure agreements.

Across the U.K., hedge funds, banks, call centers and consultancies are installing tracking systems to link biosensing wearable devices with analytics tools once the preserve of elite sports.

The new tools help link human behavior and physiological data to business performance. It’s a departure from typical wearable technology strategies, which tend to focus on operational efficiency or safety.

“Yes, it’s already happening, starting off with some of the big hedge funds,” says John Coates, a Cambridge neuroscientist and former Goldman Sachs trader, who is actively working with companies to link biological signals to trading success.

Coates says he is working with three or four hedge funds to implement such an early-warning system: “A lot of smart managers think their algos have gone as far as they can go. The next step is human optimization.”

While much is happening in secret, some companies across a range of sectors are open about their experiments with biosensing wearables.

Humanyze’s smart work badges contain microphones and and precision positioning technology.

“We’re doing voice analysis in real time,” says CEO Ben Waber. The system looks at how much individuals talk, how loudly they speak, whether they interrupt or sound stressed. “We also look at how much you move around and interact with other teams.”

Even without those issues, there are glaring privacy and morale implications to consider.

“You can’t all of a sudden tell people to wear a load of sensors. That’s creepy,” says Humanyze’s Waber.

Chris Brauer believes the privacy debate will fade once people realize the potential of this sort of human performance analytics.

“The idea that you can augment yourself with technologies will become absolutely commonplace and a natural progression.”

Of course, if mere data monitoring isn’t enough for you, there are other options. For example, Fit Clarity is working on a Fitbit-like device, called Pavlok (clever name), that will shock you if you aren’t exercising enough. From Maxim:

The expanding universe of fitness trackers has a rising star which is half Fitbit, half stun gun: Pavlok. If you consider the gentle buzz of a silent reminder from your current wearable only so much weak sauce, Pavlok’s solution is simple–a little electroshock therapy.

Fit Clarity reports Pavlok tries a subtle approach before lowering the boom, “it starts with just vibrations. This quickly advances to a small alarm and if you are too stubborn to heed the warning, it will shock you.” Fit Clarity says Pavlok then follows up with old-fashioned social media shaming, posting to your Facebook page if you get lazy and skip your run, visit to the CrossFit box or even legs day.

It’s a brave new world out there.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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