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A student’s nightmare? (Picture: BrainCo)

Creepy tech from China that’s frighteningly real

From brain-tracking devices to robotic insects -- spooky innovations to haunt you this Halloween

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Halloween is upon us and here at Abacus we’re celebrating by rounding up some of the creepiest inventions we’ve seen coming out of China.

If watching episodes of Black Mirror was enough to give you goosebumps, wait until you see technology once reserved for dystopian science fiction being tested for real in China.


A student’s nightmare? (Picture: BrainCo)


In April, Chinese social media users erupted in shock over images of school children wearing a strange device strapped to their heads. The headbands can allegedly track how focused a student is by monitoring their brain activities.
Adults aren’t immune to the technology either. Some Chinese companies are requiring workers to wear hats and helmets equipped with sensors to detect their emotions, the South China Morning Post reported.
Experts outside China are skeptical about how accurate these gadgets are, but it could be enough to scare children. One teacher said students appear to pay more attention whenever they are wearing the headbands.


It’s not just what goes on in your head. A sanitation contractor in one Chinese city is tracking workers’ real-time whereabouts using a GPS smartwatch

If an employee stays too long in one place, the watch sounds an alarm and urges the person to work harder. Some say this is too much, but the company countered that anyone who spends longer than 30 minutes cleaning up one location is not up to service standards.

Welcome to the future of work.


This robotic bug is going to haunt your dreams.

A team of Chinese and US researchers have created a fast-moving and resilient miniature robot inspired by cockroaches. Most frightening of all, you can’t squash it -- it’s built to keep moving even if a person steps on it.
If this reminds you of the murderous robotic bees from the Black Mirror episode “ Hated in the Nation,” feel better by knowing that these artificial roaches are designed for a benign purpose. Scientists hope the tiny bots can one day help in disaster relief by looking for survivors trapped under rubble after earthquakes.


Your daily news, live from Uncanny Valley. (Picture: Xinhua)

He looks mostly normal -- but something doesn’t feel quite right about Xinhua’s new anchor.

The virtual employee of China’s state-run news agency is based on the face of a real human, but just check out this video: There’s something off about the way his lips move, or the way he delivers the news in that computer-generated, stilted cadence, right?
And if that’s not enough to creep you out, consider this: Deepfakes -- manipulated videos in which a person is made to say things they never actually said -- can be used for more nefarious motives. In July, Chinese media revealed that criminals were using AI to stitch faces of celebrities into pornographic clips.


Using your face to clock in at work or pay for groceries at the supermarket may seem convenient -- but what if something goes wrong?

One women in China discovered this the hard way when she found herself unable to shop online, check into hotels and board high-speed trains -- all because she got plastic surgery. It turns out that she registered on those platforms using facial recognition, which failed to recognize her new face.
It’s just one way to show how prevalent facial recognition has become in China. Call it dystopian if you want, but the reality is that it’s getting harder than ever to avoid the technology -- whether you’re riding the subway or just crossing the street.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.