Smile for the camera! (Or you can't get into the Canon offices)

(Image credit: Canon)

In a vaguely dystopian twist, it's recently been revealed that Canon offices in China has implemented new AI camera modules that use "smile recognition" technology to will only let smiling employees into the office. Installed back in 2020, the China-based Canon subsidiary Canon Information Technology saw these AI cameras as an "intelligent IT solution" for corporate offices.

These cameras include five different functional modules, of which one is the "smiley face access control". 

In a recent press release from Canon, the imaging company states: "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… 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."

As reported by PetaPixel, some workers reject this new intrusive technology, with one writing on Weibo, "So now the companies are not only manipulating our time, but also our emotions." 

With AI cameras becoming more prevalent in our everyday life, it's not surprising that large companies will begin to take advantage of their monitoring capabilities. While there are aspects of this technology that can be helpful, such as face recognition, literally forcing employees to "put on a happy face" seems like it could be a slippery slope to even more intrusive measures. 

Canon China has defended the use of this technology, stating, "We have been wanting to encourage employees to create a positive atmosphere by utilizing this system with the smile detection setting 'on'. 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." 

It's hard to disagree that a positivity atmosphere is an essential ingredient for office life. However, we can't help but wonder whether there are easier, cheaper and more effective solutions than enforced happiness. 

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Louise Carey

With over a decade of photographic experience, Louise arms Digital Camera World with a wealth of knowledge on photographic technique and know-how – something at which she is so adept that she's delivered workshops for the likes of ITV and Sue Ryder. Louise also brings years of experience as both a web and print journalist, having served as features editor for Practical Photography magazine and contributing photography tutorials and camera analysis to titles including Digital Camera Magazine and  Digital Photographer. Louise currently shoots with the Fujifilm X-T200 and the Nikon D800, capturing self-portraits and still life images, and is DCW's ecommerce editor, meaning that she knows good camera, lens and laptop deals when she sees them.