Trigger warnings have been built into a new device developed for classrooms and social gatherings that sounds an alarm when it detects offensive language and jokes.
The lamp-sized gadget is an attempt to “manifest political correctness as an ideology into a product”, developers have said, and it is being trialled for potential use as a tool to moderate debate in settings like UK schools and universities.
Branded the “Themis”, the device is intended to be placed amid a debate setting and to emit a warning when it is triggered by the sound of banned language, racial terms and comments about body image.
Dinner parties and family gatherings could be also policed by the product, its designer has said, as the device could speak up for those at the table offended by certain topics of conversation and encourage “self-critique” in others.
Zinah Issa, who unveiled the product at Dubai Design Week, told The Telegraph: “Through the use of speech recognition and sound sensors, we were able to program Themis to detect offensive terms and sentences – racial slurs, offensive jokes – through the microphone.”
She added that “extremely bothersome” alarms triggered by such language “last approximately two minutes, after which Themis turns off, allowing then an open understanding discussion among people on the possible trigger matter and the potential reasons behind Themis’s activation.”
Research is ongoing to see what terminology buyers would wish to have trigger the alarm on the Themis, which shares its name with a Greek goddess of justice and social order.
Device could monitor university debates
Research is also being conducted to assess the best market for the device, with an aim to explore its application in educational settings like universities, which faced calls for lecturers to issue trigger warnings ahead of teaching potentially offensive material.
Ms Issa, based in the UAE, said: “Themis was designed to be placed in intimate social settings, such as dinner parties or family gatherings, because based on our research people are less likely to speak up when they get offended, unlike settings where people could be held accountable.
“However, after exhibiting in GGS (Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week) a lot of people were interested in having it in workspaces and even classrooms, so this is something that we want to develop Themis around.
“We’ll plan on sending out more surveys to further understand Themis’s target market and the audience it could reach and potentially testing it out within educational and work settings such as universities, schools and offices.”
Remarks deemed offensive in educational settings have been a course of increasing controversy, with Prof Kathleen Stock recently subjected to a campaign calling for her sacking from Sussex University over her comments on gender.
Designers of the Themis are hoping to market the market product alongside hundreds of inventions and innovations unveiled at the annual Dubai Design Week, at which more than 500 companies have exhibited new work.