What is Human Augmentation?
Human augmentation is the term for technologies that improve human capabilities. They primarily work to elevate human performance, health or quality of life. Popular examples of human augmentation technology are devices such as cochlear implants or robotic limbs. However, human augmentation also applies to how humans and machines can work together, which we can see in the growing applications and capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI). By combining the strengths of automation and artificial intelligence with expert human guidance, human workers, care givers, students, public servants and professionals in virtually any kind of work can work faster and smarter.
How Does Human Augmentation Work?
Human Augmentation works by enhancing human abilities through technology. Not only is human augmentation able to improve existing skills, but humans can also access new skills using technology.
There are three different types of human augmentation:
- Sensory. This technology is used mostly to restore abilities or compensate for impairments. Sensory augmentation is the enhancement of human senses by interpreting multisensory information.
- Action. Augmented actions focus on improving human’s physical abilities. Technology advancements have allowed people to have more precise functions from their artificial limbs, with robotics playing a large role. Augmented action technology can also improve human capabilities.
- Cognitive. This looks at how computers and technology can assist the cognitive process. Augmented cognition technology aims to help improve decision-making, memory and attention.
What Technologies are Used in Human Augmentation?
AI and machine learning (ML) is used to help improve human capabilities in various ways:
- What is AI analytics? Predictive AI analytics can predict trends and events that humans alone may not be able to. Virtual assistants also work to aid human workers by scheduling and setting reminders, offering insightful recommendations, and collecting and presenting relevant information. An example of this is agent assist in contact centers.
- What is agent assist? Agent assist technology provides live support for contact center agents, offering guidance, problem-solving pathways and presenting relevant information based on the issues and behaviors it detects.
- What is a chatbot? Chatbots can be used to help people find the information they need more quickly, and be presented with solutions and advice for queries and problems.
What are Some Human Augmentation Examples Today?
While human augmentation might seem like the technology of the future, we can see examples of it in our everyday lives like:
- Virtual reality (VR)
- Augmented reality (AR)
- Mixed reality
- Virtual assistants
- Prosthetic limbs
- 3D bioprinting
Pros of Human Augmentation
As the core aim is to improve the human experience, human augmentation has various benefits.
Enhanced Capabilities & Collaboration
Human augmentation allows humans to enhance their capabilities, whether helping to compensate for an impairment, improving existing human skills, or expanding human capabilities beyond what is currently possible. Human augmentation creates new possibilities for what it means to be human and can allow humans to excel beyond their natural limits.
Human augmentation enables us to achieve more. Whether through optimized senses, greater cognitive processes, or being physically more capable. Through the power of technology, humans can accomplish more and be stronger, smarter and healthier than ever before.
Range of Applications
Human augmentation can be used in a variety of industries – and looks differently in each.
- Healthcare. Human augmentation has obvious applications in the world of healthcare solutions, helping people to regain certain abilities. This includes cochlear implants, bionic eyes, or brain-computer interfaces (BCI) that allow people to control computers, prosthetics or robots using their minds.
- Manufacturing. AI and ML can help improve supply chains by predicting supply levels, automating reorders and scheduling maintenance.
- Finance. AI can work in data analysis to recognize and stop fraud, as well as ensure organizations are in compliance with regulations.
- The Military. The ability of human augmentation to improve human abilities, especially strength and decision-making, makes it desirable to militaries in order to develop a competitive edge. This can range from AI analytics improving decision-making to exoskeletons making people physically stronger.
Cons of Human Augmentation
Human augmentation technologies are still developing and can be viewed as controversial by some, and many of these technologies have yet to reach their full potential.
The conversation around human augmentation often raises questions about technology, business, and societal ethics. This is partly because we don’t know how far human augmentation will go, so the possibilities are vast, unknown – and can be frightening in some contexts. Human augmentation can sometimes be seen to violate the usual role of medicine and even change what it means to be human.
Perceptions of Unfair Competition
The proposal of certain human augmentation technologies to increase strength, cognitive abilities and senses means that those who are able to afford these technologies will present unfair competition to those who can’t. Either in job applications, sporting competitions or a number of other arenas, human augmentation can negatively impact those who can’t access the technology.
Other Potential Risks
When human augmentation enters the business environment, certain risks must be considered. The introduction of technologically-augmented employees means that they could begin to outperform and/or replace regular employees. An overreliance on augmentation technologies may also prevent employees from developing their own skill sets, which may result in underperformance or making costly mistakes when they are without the technology.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Human Augmentation?
Human augmentation can improve people’s lives drastically, compensating for ailments and providing enhanced performance and new opportunities and experiences for many. However, this may come with a long-term cost. Human augmentation technologies are largely still new and often expensive. The ultimate in human augmentation involves life extension technology, with such technologies being pursued by more venture capital investment than we might imagine.
Looking to the Future of Human Augmentation
Much of the human augmentation technologies being discussed today are yet to be fully realized. The future of human augmentation is ambitious, so the developments we’ll see in the near future are closer to home. AI is already infused within our daily lives, and as its capabilities grow, it will become more important in daily human lives, both in the workplace and outside of it. Technology like BCI is another strong likelihood of where human augmentation will likely go next, with various big tech companies investing in the technology.
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