China is testing artificial intelligence-enhanced pens to better monitor its students

China is testing artificial intelligence-enhanced pens to better monitor its students


Artificial intelligence can also be used to check if your children have done their homework. This disturbing use of technology is a reality in some Chinese schools where smart pens monitor students.

Artificial intelligence is now creeping in everywhere, even in the most banal everyday objects. In China, some schools have equipped their students with “smart pens” to “improve the efficiency” of students. A new form of surveillance which worries quite a lot because of the potential abuses of such technology.

LePen monitors students

As written International mail, the controversy came from a middle school student living in Hainan province. After being entrusted with a pen equipped with a camera by her school for the holidays, the young woman explained that she felt “watched” and unable to enjoy her summer vacation. Note-taking and writing being transmitted directly to the teachers, it is impossible not to work without being spotted by the school.

“Students should use it to do their homework during the summer vacation, and return it to school at the end of the vacation”, specifies the Chinese media which revealed the case. Via the photo module embedded in the pen and the Bluetooth connection to the phone, “all answer contents can be uploaded to cloud, teacher can track progress in completing homework and know how long students spent on each question”. The pen actually takes care of scanning the sheet on which the student writes, then an AI then analyzes this data before transmitting it to the teachers concerned.

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This is not the first time that connected pens have been given to Chinese students to better monitor their activities during the holidays. In 2020, a student presented on video a similar gadget called (it can’t be invented) The pen. Thanks to the photo module, the inclination of the pen and a small microphone placed in the body of the object, the application that accompanies the pen was able to perform character recognition, record surrounding noises and transmit all this directly to the school.

“Digital handcuffs” for students

Under the guise of helping with the “digital transformation” of the school, these pens are in fact a kind of “digital handcuffs”, according to some specialists. In addition to the terrible invasion of privacy that such pens represent (impossible to work at one’s own pace, impossible to rant about a question for fear of being recorded, impossible to draw in the margin or risk being spotted ), this kind of accessory also blurs the boundaries between professional and personal life for teachers. If it is necessary to check the good performance of homework every day, it is difficult for teachers to breathe even for a day.

The collection of personal data in very large quantities obviously poses significant ethical problems. Should we monitor our actions and gestures down to the little things that we are likely to scribble on a sheet? With a permanent trace of all the writings of everyone, it becomes possible for authoritarian regimes to tighten the screws even more on its population. And the debate is all the more salient when we talk about data belonging to minors.

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