What Is Human Augmentation? All You Need To Know

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Dejan Cvetnarevic
Written by
Dejan Cvetnarevic

Updated · Aug 26, 2023

Dejan Cvetnarevic
Content Writer | Joined October 2021 | LinkedIn
Dejan Cvetnarevic

With a degree in English Language and Literature and immense love for tech, Dejan's unique blend of ... | See full bio

Lorie Tonogbanua
Edited by
Lorie Tonogbanua


Lorie Tonogbanua
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
Lorie Tonogbanua

Lorie is an English Language and Literature graduate passionate about writing, research, and learnin... | See full bio

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As technology evolves and people learn more about themselves, concerns about human health and quality of life increase, leading to a rise in human augmentation.

You may be asking, "Is human augmentation possible?" The answer is yes. Augmented Reality is expected to grow from 62.7 billion USD in 2023 to 1109.71 billion USD by 2030. 

Many industries, including the US military, are using the latest technologies to augment the physical capabilities of their soldiers. The forecast also shows China will have the most substantial Augmented and Virtual Reality spending worldwide in 2024.

This article will help you learn the different types of human augmentation, real-life examples, pros and cons, and related controversies and legalities.

🔑Key Takeaways: 

  • Human capabilities can be extended in 4 kinds of augmentations.
  • Human augmentation works in three ways, considering body functionality enhancing or restoring.
  • Healthcare, entertainment, and the military best benefit from human augmentation.
  • There are drawbacks to expanding human augmentation.
  • Controversies and legalities surround human augmentation.

Understanding Human Augmentation and its History

In a way, humans are already augmented with smartphones, but human augmentation goes further. Human augmentation is the technology that alternates the physical human body to boost productivity and enhance and restore its capabilities.

According to the TAUCHI Research Center, human augmentation is achieved through sensing and actuation technologies, fusion and fission of information, and artificial intelligence (AI) methods.

🎉Fun fact!

"AI" was coined by American mathematician and computer scientist John McCarthy in 1956. He is widely recognized as the Father of Artificial Intelligence.

A classic study on human augmentation lays the foundation for the conceptual framework of augmenting human intellect.

History of Human Augmentation

Computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, the founder of the Augmentation Research Center (ARC), authored a study on human augmentation. It was published by the Stanford Research Institute in 1962.

Engelbart delved deep and explained how humans comprehend situations by using a composition of basic cognitive abilities, and such capabilities can extend through four kinds of augmentations:

  1. Artifacts—physical objects humans manipulate.
  2. Language—tools humans use to give form to concepts.
  3. Methodology—procedures humans use for problem-solving
  4. Training—upskilling required to increase a human's effectiveness.

The system humans want to improve can be visualized as a trained human with the four augmentation means above. 

Engelbert also said that the development of "artificial intelligence" has been going on for centuries.

Artificial Intelligence

From a philosophical perspective, Engelbart meant that human augmentation is naturally essential to human life. 

There are many types of human augmentation. Each of these types has different functions in their respective fields. 

Types of Human Augmentation

Human augmentation improves existing human skills, and at the same time, humans get access to new skills. These technologies suggest augmenting human senses, actions, and cognition.

There are three types of human augmentation:

Augmented Senses 

Vision, taste, touch, smell, and hearing can be physically augmented. Human augmentation is achieved through interpreting and presenting the human senses to the user. 

This type includes devices that compensate for impairments, like hearing aids by Audibel for people with a hearing impairment.


Another human augmentation device for the hearing impaired is the cochlear implant. They are surgically implanted to stimulate the auditory nerve and provide sound signals directly to the brain.

A commercially available product for entertainment would be Spectacles, a hands-free video recording device developed by Snapchat. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are more advanced sensory augments.

Augmented Action

Augmented actions are focused on improving a human's physical activities or restoring body functions through prosthetic body parts.

This technology senses and maps human actions and translates them into different environments (local, remote, or virtual). It can be classified into subclasses, and the most popular are speech input, gaze-based controls, and motor augmentation.

Examples of augmented actions are the functional finger prostheses for partial-hand amputation by Naked Prosthetics and Stanford University's ankle exoskeleton, giving people a motorized boost to their steps as they walk.


Stanford University's ankle exoskeleton is called the 'Real-World Iron Man' boots, in character reference to the boots of Iron Man, an American sci-fi Marvel comic book character.

Augmented Cognition

Augmented cognition enables scientists to hack into the nervous system. The technology detects the physiological and neurophysiological aspects of the human mind to cater to their needs. 

Analytical tools are then used to interpret the commands received from the user. 

As a field of research, augmented cognition combines cognitive psychology, neuroscience, engineering, computer science, and human-computer interaction (HCI). 

Augmented cognition supports human information processing concerning working memory, sensory memory, and attention. An impressive example of this is neural implants or prostheses for the brain.

🎉Fun fact!

Brain chip implants are foreseen to augment brain functioning for people even without therapeutic need. However, 78% of Americans express limited desire for such.

Research from Frontiers argues that a person with sensory, cognitive, and motor enhancements could be unpredictable in their actions and reactions because of the integration with a device.

Nevertheless, human augmentation remains a popular option for millions of people globally.

Real-Life Examples of Human Augmentation

Human augmentation may sound ambitious, but its applications are vast. It supplies many industries, especially the healthcare industry's growing need for wearable human enhancement devices. 

People regain certain abilities or get enhanced capabilities using these human augmentation devices:


The global healthcare industry is set to reach over 4.9 billion USD by 2026. It is driven by increased funding for medical robotics, tech innovations, and issuances of initial public offerings (IPOs) by various medical companies specializing in robotics.

Bionic Eye 

Christine Steeves using special glassesPhoto from: Tufts Medical Center

An electrical prosthesis surgically implanted into the eyes, also known as a bionic eye, helps the completely blind perceive light and reflections of light. It restores vision in patients with retinal diseases that have resulted in the loss of photoreceptors.

A New Vision for Those with Rare Blindness Condition | Tufts Medical Center

Christine Steeves was diagnosed with a rare genetic eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa and was completely blind for four years.

While there is no cure for such, Christine was the first in New England to receive implantation of the retinal prosthesis called Argus II or Bionic Eye in 2017.

When it was implanted and healed, Steeves wore special glasses fitted with a video camera. What the camera sees is transformed into light patterns transmitted to the implant. Those signals travel to the optic nerve and brain, giving visual clues to the things around her.

While several bionic eyes have successfully achieved visual perception in humans, experts say many things need to be improved, and engineering difficulties are to be resolved.

Another field that benefits from human augmentation is the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry with smart glasses.


Augmented reality gadgets like smart glasses with headsets offer an interactive experience. Looking through it, you’ll see images superimposed onto the physical world.

Mixed-reality Headset

Google and Logitech have some good pairs of augmented-reality headsets. Apple released its first wearable headset device and 3D camera: the Apple Vision Pro.

Apple Vision ProImage from: Apple

In June 2023, Apple announced its 3,500 USD Apple Vision Pro Headset, a smart glass that blends digital content with physical space.

Introducing Apple Vision Pro

You can navigate the Vision Pro Headset simply by using your eyes, hands, and voice. There's an infinite canvas for apps and a fully three-dimensional user interface; it has the world's first spatial operating system, an ultra-high-resolution display system, etc.

A lot is to be unpacked on this device, but it's unavailable until early 2024 in the US.

More Gadgets
  • Timekettle: a wearable translator earbud that translates vocal speech in real time.
  • SenseGlove Nova VR: a haptic glove that gives you the sensation that digital objects are in your hand.
  • Teslasuit: a full-body suit with a haptic feedback system that stimulates the world of touch and sensation.
  • Neuralink: a Brain-Computer Interface technology that enables a person to control an external device such as computers, prosthetics, or robots using brain signals.

Simultaneously, the human augmentation market also proliferates because of the increasing use of exoskeletons for military purposes.


Augmentation technologies include artificial intelligence and augmented reality; the best-known example is the exoskeleton.

The U.S. Army views exoskeletons as a "promising approach to enable soldiers to maintain peak performance." 


Lockheed Martin's ONYX exoskeletonPhoto from: University of Central Florida

American defense and technology company Lockheed Martin provides support and upgrade services for military needs. 

Their ONYX exoskeleton invention is a lower-body exoskeleton suit or knee brace. It is capable of improving a soldier's physical performance with activities requiring repetitive kneeling, squatting, climbing, and carrying heavy loads.

UCF Grads Boost Endurance with Lockheed Martin’s Onyx

The ONYX reduces fatigue and decreases the chance of injury with physically demanding tasks. It was introduced to the US Army's 10th Mountain Division in November 2018.

The same year, the company received a 6.9 million USD award from the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) to enhance the exoskeleton for future soldier demonstrations.

Used by the military, healthcare, and the entertainment industry, human augmentation technologies are undoubtedly spectacular. But despite its benefits, it also presents a couple of disadvantages.

Pros and Cons of Human Augmentation 

Improving human capacities through innovation is done in good faith, but human augmentation technologies are still developing.

Below are its pros and cons.



Improve and add to human capabilities and productivity.

Accessible only to those who can afford it, negatively impacting those who can’t afford the technology.

Enhance bodily integrity and compensate for an impairment.

Over-reliance on augmentation technologies can hinder performance.

Alleviates mundane tasks and enhances convenience.

Technologies that surpass human intelligence would be extraordinary. They may be a threat to regular employees.

Allows humans to perform tasks beyond physical capability, pushing them to build and achieve more goals.

Human augmentation raises controversial questions about ethics, technology, and business.

Improves physical and mental health.

Robotic wings, gills, limbs, and other robotic prostheses may cause body pain, skin irritation, and other health issues.

Allow for creativity and recreation.


It adds a new perspective on life.


Leads to a better quality of life.


While they benefit humankind, human augmentation technologies should not be seen as a substitute for human intelligence and decision-making. This is why some people consider human augmentation a controversial topic.

Controversies Surrounding Human Augmentation

Because the long-term effects of human augmentation are still uncertain and yet to be determined, human augmentation poses challenges, particularly with the user’s well-being.

Human augmentation also raises concerns regarding security and privacy.

Security and Privacy

Some human augmentation devices like microchip implants are a security threat. While it is a promising technology, its users are subjected to something threatening their security, given that it is relatively easy to hack.

Research suggests that microchip implants also increase the potential for identity theft, and it has been associated with autonomy and freedom issues.

Questions about the safety of human augmentation also arise from the possibility of abuse, misuse, dangers with addiction, and possible overdose with smart drugs.

Health Issues

Smart drugs improve human thinking, learning, and memory. It is a cause of concern when used by healthy people as more study needs to be done on how the human brain will react when enhancing human cognition.

Ethical and Morality Issues

Gene editing or genome editing is a method of making particular changes in the DNA sequence of many organisms. It is criticized for altering the very essence of human nature and its possible effects on future generations.

This technique might affect the development of a fetus in unexpected ways or have long-term side effects that are yet to be discovered.

Gene editing could also open the door for unprecedented forms and practices of eugenics—an immoral theory that humans can be improved through "racial improvement" and "planned breeding."

The increasing production and use of human enhancement technologies challenge legal conceptions of responsibility.


Human augmentation technologies have yet to reach their full potential. It is beneficial that regulatory bodies determine how to manage this new technology as it expands.

Legalities Surrounding Human Augmentation

Human augmentation’s legal landscape (including international, EU, and national laws) reveals that human augmentation or enhancement devices do not explicitly fall under any specific existing regulatory regime beyond basic product safety requirements.

Scholars identified four distinct levels of regulation by which human augmentation/enhancement devices could be governed:

  1. no regulation (beyond existing product safety requirements; the status quo);
  2. regulating through the existing legal regime (e.g., the Medical Devices Directive, with regulations less strict than, equally as strict as, or stricter than those currently in place for medical devices);
  3. creating a new regulatory regime specifically for human enhancement devices;
  4. banning them entirely.

The above list is from the SIENNA project entitled “Analysis of the Legal and Human Rights Requirements for Human Enhancement Technologies in and Outside the EU.” Arguments suggest new human rights might be required to protect the human mind.

Governments are responsible for significantly regulating human augmentation by law to minimize its harmful impacts.


Is it possible to augment a human?

Yes. With human augmentation tools, the average human can expand his physical, intellectual, and social abilities and perform enhanced physical or mental abilities.

What is the future of human augmentation?

Much of human augmentation is yet to be fully realized; the technology offers a broad sense of opportunities, so the future of human augmentation is ambitious and seen to drive human capacities in a vast field of possibilities.

Who invented human augmentation?

The idea of augmenting the human intellect was first coined by Douglas Engelbart in 1962. Engelbart envisioned technologies back then that are now commonplace.

Is human augmentation good?

Human augmentation/enhancement can be used for good, but when placed in the wrong hands, there are implications. It is linked to the debate on animal testing ethics and issues on societal control, manipulation, and privacy breaches.

What are human augmentation companies?

The top human augmentation companies in 2021 are Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Google LLC, Ekso Bionics, Vuzix Corporation, Garmin Ltd, B-Temia Inc, Casio, Magic Leap, ReWalk Robotics, and CYBERDYNE INC.


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