Intel under fire over its face-reading AI

A few weeks ago, Intel announced a partnership with Class Technologies, an e-learning startup working on artificial intelligence capable of detecting students’ emotions.

“Intel is committed to ensuring educators and students have access to the technologies and tools needed to meet the challenges of a changing world,” Intel’s Michael Campbell said at the time. “Through technology, we have the ability to set the standard for impactful, synchronous online learning experiences that empower educators.”

Class Technologies tools work with Intel processors and Zoom, the video call service. The aim is to analyze students’ emotions and provide information to teachers.

The pandemic has pushed nearly every school in the world to move online, often facilitated by video calls, with varying degrees of success. An early concept of Class technology aims to see if students are less engaged.

“As Class strives to fulfill its mission to change the way the world learns, it’s technology innovators like Intel that will help us improve the virtual learning experience for teachers and students,” said Class CEO Michael Chasen.

“With Intel’s industry-leading technologies and expertise, Class will further improve accessibility and user experience across all platforms, including PCs powered by Intel processors.”

But not everyone is happy…

A wrong premise?

But wait, you might be thinking: how can an AI analyzing a grainy image from a webcam seek to successfully detect students’ emotions?

Talk to Protocol, critics from several fields have expressed serious reservations about the system proposed by Class and Intel. Research has shown that people express themselves in almost infinite ways, essentially undoing such a system.

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“Students have different ways of presenting what’s going on inside of them,” said education Todd Richmond, speaking to Protocol. “That distracted student at this time may be the appropriate and necessary state for him at this time in his life.”

As the pandemic continues, classrooms have become a site for much technological experimentation.

Online proctoring services have come under heavy criticism – and are now being discontinued in some schools – after seeing an increase in their use by US schools to help monitor students during exams.

Intel and Class represent just the latest example of monitoring students and drawing conclusions about their behavior without, well, actually asking them.

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For their part, Intel and Class insist that their intention is not to judge or penalize students, but to help create better lessons by analyzing participant engagement. Like Protocol highlights, however, the line between these things is thin.

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