TechKNOW Tomorrow – Human Augmentation With Technology

Image by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash.

One of my favourite superheroes today is Captain America. While this is for many reasons, the one that sticks out to me is the story of the underdog, defying physical limitations to follow your dreams and beliefs no matter who opposes you. Captain America demonstrates that with a strong enough will, you can make anything possible, that willpower and determination are just as vital to survival as might and constitution.

This willpower is present in many scientists, engineers, and innovators who have studied and developed technologies for human augmentation. In a way, we defy nature in order to enhance the human body. For example, we’ve already found methods to increase the longevity of human life. And just like Captain America’s enhancement thanks to super soldier serum, humans are currently studying – and making breakthroughs in research on – how we can augment our own bodies.

Technologies for Augmenting Humans

As we head further into the 2020s, it’s becoming clear we are currently in a technological revolution. A huge portion of that technology lies in enhancement: “the human augmentation market will be worth approximately 400 billion dollars by 2027“. But what does human augmentation mean exactly? The idea is to improve upon our natural genetics and skills in some way, to spawn the next revolution in humanity – Humanity 2.0.

A cool example of human augmentation is Naked Prosthetics, a company that builds finger prosthetics for accident or amputation victims. The realistic movement from these prosthetics allow the wearer more mobility and they function much like real fingers, unlike previous generic prosthetics.

Video by Naked Prosthetics via YouTube.

Hearing aids and voice synthesizers are also good examples of human augmentation. That said, the future holds a lot more promise for technologies that not only replace what we’ve lost, but also exceed what we’re currently capable of.

Elon Musk, owner of Space X and Tesla, has cofounded another company called Neuralink, which is seeking to create a device that “would implant tiny electrodes into the brain to give humans the ability of direct computing“. It would allow our brains to solve complex problems that only today’s supercomputers are capable of.

Another technology in its infancy are robotic mech suits that would allow us to lift heavier objects without risk of injury to problem areas like the back. They could even potentially save lives (e.g., a person trapped under rubble). Additionally, artificial blood cells, a technology that “evolved with mammals that can hold their breath underwater by storing oxygen, . . . will increase endurance, stamina, and deep diving“, making diving easier for a species that was never meant to live underwater.

In the military, Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR) allows soldiers to easily distinguish between friendly and enemy forces, which will soon replace the need for night vision goggles and GPS systems. TAR will allow higher intelligence between soldiers in the field and officers at bases, helping to ensure less casualties in military operations.

The final example of technology augmenting humans we’ll be looking at is a gene splicing method called CRISPR, a new method that “greatly improves scientists’ ability to accurately and efficiently “edit” the human genome, in both embryos and adults“. With CRISPR, we may start seeing cures to practically any disease imaginable. Likewise, parents may also soon have the option for designer babies – embryos with their genomes edited to make ‘perfect babies’ with whatever genes the parents desire.

Pros and Cons of Human Augmentation

Many of the advantages involved with human augmentation are likely clear from the examples given above. The eradication of diseases and terminal conditions would allow us to live longer and healthier lives. Improved prosthetics and exoskeletons will grant a higher quality of life to amputees and disabled individuals. Gene modification will eventually prevent health issues we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to treat. Smart glasses or contact lenses can already allow visually impaired or colour deficient users the ability to see the world as others do. Ear buds can translate languages on the fly. The list goes on and on.

Image by Harry Quan on Unsplash.

What human augmentation will provide is a world of inclusivity, increased safety, and improved health. On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to these enhancements that are worth consideration.

One of the primary concerns with human augmentation is whether it’s ethical: how do we “reconcile the interests of the individual and those of society in the event of conflict“?. In other words, what works for one person won’t have the same effect on a collective group. This is likely because “companies developing human augmentation technology will prioritize profit over providing their customers with genuine benefits“. Those who can’t afford augmentation technologies are threatened to be left behind, further solidifying the inequalities between the classes in society.

The ethics of animal testing are also a major concern. Many augmentation technologies, particularly ones focused on implants, are tested on animals beforehand to make sure they’re ready for human testing.

Another disadvantage is that the failure of “augmentation technologies could result in serious injuries or fatalities“. For example, a defect in an exoskeleton suit could result in a serious back injury while an employee is trying to lift an extremely heavy object.

Finally, one thing that we all have to remember is that “companies developing human augmentation technology will prioritize profit over providing their customers with genuine benefits“. As the demand for human augmentation rises, so does the possibility of a technological race on commercial products meant to enhance humanity.

Despite the advancements we’re making in human augmentation technology, there are many issues we must be aware of. That said, the potential for equality among all of us exists because of this technology (e.g., smart glasses that allow visually impaired people to see). Regulation and affordability will determine where the world will head in relation to human augmentation technology and whether we can achieve a more inclusive society for everyone.

. . .

At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Unfortunately, our services will no longer be available after March 31, 2022. However, our class presentations, handouts, and activities will all remain available on the Community Sector Council website for you to continue practicing your digital literacy skills. You can also check out some of these resources to keep on top of technology and to find answers to specific questions you may have.

From all of us here at techKNOWtutors, thank you for your support of our program and take care! Stay in the techKNOW!

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