In an effort to increase student participation, some lecture-based classes have begun to take attendance using facial recognition software. Cameras installed at the front of the lecture hall match the students sitting in seats with ID photos stored in the Stanford database.
The system not only records students’ physical presence but also analyzes their facial expressions and eye movements to determine how much attention they are paying to the lecture. The software calculates a “citizen engagement score” for each student which is then factored into their participation grade for the course.
Stanford has leveraged its connection with Peter Thiel ‘89 and partnered with his company Palantir, known for providing ICE with software for monitoring US borders, to implement the new attendance system. “The $24,000 Palantir donated to the CS department did not influence our decision to work with them,” said University spokesman JT Whipple while fondling a shiny new Rolex on his wrist. “It was really that they were experienced in conducting mass-surveillance of marginalized populations.” The system, dubbed “Big Daddy”, was named by Thiel after an additional $100k donation to Stanford in exchange for the naming rights.
Stanford students—ever eager to embrace the status quo—have already begun to accept Big Daddy as the new normal. Some have even tried to take advantage of the system by asking their friends to tape pictures of them to lecture seats in order to be marked as present—the new equivalent to forging friends’ signatures on a sign-in sheet.
Other students have complained about Big Daddy’s high error rate: the system is only capable of recognizing white students. When students of color attend lecture, they are not picked up by the software and are instead marked as absent. “The AI is just bad at recognizing brown people,” said JT Whipple. “It might be because we trained the AI using lectures from conferences organized by the Hoover Institute.”
Whipple did attribute the suspiciously low attendance numbers to other causes, as well: “We were surprised that Big Daddy wasn’t recording any students attending SymSys 1 lectures, but we checked the footage and, actually, it’s true: no one goes to SymSys lectures.”