Last Updated: October 19, 2021
Human augmentation is gaining popularity rapidly.
But what if tech-enhanced humans take over the world? Hello, Skynet, goodbye, Arnie!
From a more realistic point of view, it can help tremendously. And although human augmentation already has a significant role in the modern world, it rarely gets the attention it deserves.
In fact, for many, it’s still a mystery.
Allow me to take the role of the Scooby gang and uncover it all.
What Is Human Augmentation?
Anything that brings cognitive and physical enhancements to the human experience can be considered human augmentation. Most commonly, it’s designed to improve health, quality of life, or performance.
But, let’s see what human augmentation is in more detail.
It’s created to enhance human productivity or capability. It can even add to the human body!
This may sound like something futuristic and extreme, but human augmentation is already in use.
Important elaboration first:
One of the most significant differences between traditional tools and augmentations is that the latter partially becomes a part of you. This includes:
- chip implants
- genetic modifications
Doctors performed the first modern plastic surgeries performed after World War I, attempting to reconstruct injured soldiers’ faces. This too is human augmentation.
With modern advancements in IT, more implants, wearables, and similar technologies are becoming available. Millions of people around the world are already engaging with forms of human augmentation.
Due to its functions, some refer to this tech as Human 2.0.
How Does Human Augmentation Work? Here’s the thing.
You don’t need a controller. It’s all connected to your body.
For example, a bionic arm, which is used by people with below-elbow limb differences, receives signals from muscles. The same ones that are used for controlling a biological hand. All one has to do is imagine flexing the wrist, and that’s what the prosthetic will do.
What’s more, the arm doesn’t have to be attached surgically. Sensors are placed on the user’s strongest muscle site, and all commands are sent through them.
This already feels like the future you’d expect to see in sci-fi movies.
But why put limitations?
Bioprinting is still in its first stages, but it has the potential to bring some massive changes to the medicine industry. For instance, creating organic tissue like skin or bones with 3D printing techniques.
But human augmentation isn’t only useful for medical purposes.
The exoskeleton is a wearable mechanical device that one can wear outside of their body. While it doesn’t receive signals from the muscles, it provides artificial strength. With it, a human can hold 10 kg extra in each hand.
But even some of the tools for improved efficiency can be controlled on a neural level. Elon Musk’s Neuralink aims to bring the first brain-computer interface (BCI). Although this technology isn’t still quite here, Musk has a track record of turning his ideas into reality.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to human augmentation.
Whether we’re talking about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or gene editing, we might get the chance to improve our bodies.
If the experts unlock the full potential of these processes, they might eventually be able to edit the melanin genes. This could be a significant advantage in the war against skin cancer.
Types of Human Augmentation
There are three main types of human augmentation:
Through the interpretation of available multisensory information, humans can get augmented, extended, or enhanced senses.
This type is most often used as a way to make up for impairments. Senses are amplified through the use of various different technologies.
The best example – the use of haptic actuators to describe the environment to a blind person. The same technology can interpret speech signals to a deaf person.
Besides making up for lost senses, this tech also has the potential to improve existing senses.
It uses more sensors for observing signals from the outside. That way, a person can receive signals that are beyond normal human capabilities.
Our bodies aren’t familiar with the signals, but suitable technology “translates” them.
An example would be light sensors making it possible for a person to see in the dark. While night vision has been around for a while, scientists are coming up with new ways to use it.
The EC-Eye is a bionic eye that could not only restore vision but even give the user some new abilities. This includes seeing better in the dark and recognizing smaller objects at further distances.
This type of tech is all about sensing specific human actions and mapping them in local, remote, or virtual environments.
Augmented action can be classified into different subclasses. The most common include:
- Speech input
- Gaze-based controls
- Motor augmentation
- Amplified force
The best example is prosthetic limbs.
Augmenting human action can be a step forward from the natural human motor and sensory limits.
There are exoskeletons that can handle manual tasks but still require human intelligence. They can aid individuals who don’t necessarily need AI.
This type of human augmentation deals with things like:
- cognitive psychology
- computer science
- human-computer interaction (HCI)
Modern technology can detect the human cognitive state. The process utilizes analytical tools that can interpret commands they receive from the user.
Eventually, this could improve working memory, attention spans, and a lot more.
Many industries have already integrated human augmentation.
Let’s look at some of its most common use cases:
One of the most common uses of human augmentation is in medicine.
The company Naked Prosthetics can already replicate amputated fingers with extreme precision.
eSight creates wearables that can bring images closer to legally blind people’s eye receptors. You can attach the device to your head and it will improve your functional vision.
San Diego-based company Organovo is already developing a line of human tissues used in medical research and drug discovery.
In addition, some human augmentation tools are even made to make medical workers’ jobs easier.
Japan’s Cyberdyne has come up with a HAL suit that makes it easier for patients to move, thus unburdening medical staff.
Automation is a popular topic when talking about manufacturing. More and more of the machines produced can do what people are currently doing.
However, human augmentation can completely change the way manufacturers work.
Some of the devices for workers can lead to fewer errors, higher quality, and improve their well-being in the long-term.
Usually, they’re only attached to/used by a person during their working hours.
We already mentioned exoskeleton wearable devices earlier. Ford, for example, equips its employees with EksoVest from Ekso Bionics to ensure they can handle more weight.
A similar tool has been designed by the Italian company Perceptual Robotics Laboratory. Its Body Extender gives the user strength to hold even up to 50 kg in each arm.
Skylight by Upskill helps aviation engineers make B-nuts, a key part of the engine. It’s critical that these parts are tightened effectively to keep the aircraft running.
The sky’s the limit, as people like to say. Human augmentation has numerous other uses.
For example, there are wearable devices for miners that ensure better safety and higher productivity. The US-based company Guardhat has developed a hat that detects people’s surroundings and communicates with their supervisors directly.
There are even technologies designed to increase soldiers’ awareness when operating heavy machinery.
What’s Next for Human Augmentation?
According to Gartner, we can expect to see even higher levels of both physical and cognitive human augmentation in the next 10 years.
The pace of change in this technology is already accelerating. More businesses and investors are entering the game.
MarketsandMarkets predicts the human augmentation market will be worth $206.9 billion by 2024.
This will create a new consumerization effect – more people will take advantage of it, especially for work.
There are still some important areas businesses should focus on before adopting this technology, however. This includes security, data privacy, the potential impact on both mental and physical health, etc.
So, what is human augmentation?
Think of it as a way of integrating tech in order to help people and improve their life.
No need to go full-on Sarah Connor. Technology will need a few more years before it takes us down. For now, it’s on our side.
If we can make a blind man see now, then I can’t wait to see what the future brings. Meanwhile, everything that improves people’s well-being gets thumbs up from me.