Posted in Operations & IT Articles, Total Reads: 2961
, Published on 17 November 2013
The dreams of superhuman dates back to the times of birth of humans. As long as there have been humans, there have been dreams of having abilities beyond human capability.
Technology has made several efforts to ameliorate humans’ organs. Eyeglasses, for example, have been sharpening sight since 1200s, hearing aids started making speech more intelligible in 1700s, pacemakers have been increasing lifespans since 1950s, and powered exoskeletons developed to support and expand the physical capabilities of humans have also been launched. These innovations are the beginning of human’s next great prowess, human augmentation. The technology has advanced to harness machines and electronics to augment the human experience. Human augmentation will see the use of drugs, technologies and techniques to improve the capabilities of human “beyond normal”.
But as human enhancement becomes more common in the decades and centuries to come, there is a real peril of discrimination between the augmented and non-augmented human.
Gartner explains human augmentation as “The field of human augmentation (sometimes referred to as Human 2.0) focuses on creating cognitive and physical improvements as an integral part of the human body. An example is using active control systems to create limb prosthetics with characteristics that can exceed the highest natural human performance.”
Human augmentation refers to techniques that can be used not only for treating illness or disability, but also for enhancing human characteristics and capacities. The aim is to fundamentally transform the human condition by enhancing human intellectual, physical, and cognitive capabilities.
The background of human augmentation starts with prosthesis. A prosthesis is an artificial device capable of replacing a missing body part which has been lost through trauma, disease, or congenital conditions. The earliest recorded mention of Prosthesis is ‘a leg of iron’ from the Rigveda to the warrior queen, Vishpala.
Another early mention of a prosthetic comes from the Egyptians as a wooden toe was found on a body from the New Kingdom. The most significant example of prosthesis in the European Renaissance of the 14th to 17th centuries was that of a famous and refined historical prosthetic arm of Gottfried von Berlichingen. Popularly known as Götz of the Iron Hand, a debilitated knight had lost his arm during a siege and had it replaced with a mechanical prosthesis that allowed him to hold a range of objects from a lance, a playing card, and even a feather quill.
The world is becoming more and more competitive and everybody wants to be better than the other. Technologies have made augmenting human performance in intellectual, physical and emotional areas, possible. Augmentation can help create a more capable workforce and thus benefit the enterprises. Consider an employee having access to wearable technology capable of answering any product or service query or produce any enterprise data at will. This will significantly increase the ability to improve productivity, distribute and sell better or deliver services to customer better.
ABI Research predicts human augmentation technology to grow to $877 million by 2020.
Powered exoskeletons which are robotic frameworks designed to enhance the strength of the user, are identified to see a CAGR of 68% over 2010-2020. These powered exoskeletons will be used primarily in military and medical areas to begin with, due to their high manufacturing cost. Advanced powered upper-limb prostheses, which include myoelectric and nerve-controlled limbs with articulating digits, will see a CAGR of 28.5% over the 2010-2020 period. Ocular sensory-substitution devices for the blind, such as retinal implants and ocular prostheses, will post a CAGR of almost 75% this decade, with more than 16,000 units to be shipped in 2020.
Gartner has released its newest edition of the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies and it depicts the mounting importance of the link between humans and machines. The study, which has been released on an annual basis since 1995, identified three major trends in the technology sector and the “overriding” one is “the evolving relationship between humans and machines”, according to Jackie Fenn, vice president, Gartner.
Today’s headlines may center narrowly on the development of power-assisted suits or exoskeletons, but human augmentation is a multibillion-dollar embryonic market, and research is escalating in areas such as enhanced or additional senses, discriminating magnetic fields, for example direct brain stimulation for improved concentration (which today is still called coffee), and thought-activated mechanical limbs.
There are several ways to human-machine augmentation, for example wearable computer such as Google Glass, sensor implants, using DNA and chemical processes to improve functioning of brain and muscles, cochlear implants for the hard of hearing, nano robotics, surgery enhancing performance. Laser eye surgery is a good example of both curable and enhancing human augmentation, as it could be used to aid the vision of the visually impaired or enhance the sight of people with normal eyesight. Many professional athletes get laser surgery. The notion is to enhance the human idea of “normal.”
Some theorists, noticeably Ray Kurzweil, believe that the brain will be encoded as software someday, allowing it to be remodelled, upgraded by peripheral technology, fastened to a robotic body, and immortal. Strength-enhancing exoskeleton suits have been sold to the military and rehab hospitals. Google Glasses would be released as a consumer product in 2014. Embedded, sensor-based technologies are just starting to hit the market.
The Google Glass Impact
Almost the entire fleet of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) technologies is advancing in the vigil of recent interest in Google Glass. Other than wearable user interfaces, many pertinent technologies have been fostered in their progress toward broader market acceptance. Some of these technologies include Smart Fabrics, Speech Recognition, Touch Control, Gaze Control and In-air Gesture Control.
Looking Beyond the Glass
If the wearable user interface is in its infancy, some of the most alluring abilities in HCI are still mere flicker in the eyes of researchers at MIT and elsewhere. These include brain, muscle and olfactory interfaces. These technologies are more than 10 years away from the productivity plateau. Brain and muscle interfaces, in particular, pledge to offer an instant and seamless interaction with technology, removing the "middle man" control mechanisms found in the keyboard, mouse and touch screen.
This is the area that truly kindles one's dreams of becoming the next Avenger. Human Augmentation, also sometimes referred to as Human 2.0 which originally focused on helping those with impaired function, now focus on superhuman conduct, creating technologies that take people to levels that are beyond human performance and are currently perceived as normal.
The on-going expansion of human enhancement brings along issues which have to be faced by humanity. First, supposing that augmented humans will certainly become more autonomous in future, and that they will perform important, possibly vital, functions in society, will they reach a point where it becomes useful or necessary to grant them fundamental ‘human’ rights? It seems an odd question from today’s perspective, but cannot be dismissed right away. In parallel to sophisticated robotics, cyborgs will also enter the picture: human beings with increasing amounts of technology built-in or connected to the person.
A second major issue is whether a social divide will develop between enhanced and non-enhanced humans. For example, if an employer can choose between a common man with an IQ of 130 and a cyborg with an IQ of 260, does he differentiate if he chooses the cyborg? Also, owing to the high cost of human augmentation, it probably will be available in 15-20 years only to those who are able to pay for it. Such a situation may lead to a two-tiered society of an enhanced and non-enhanced persons and may require regulation.
Underlying both issues is perhaps the most fundamental question: as enhancement and robotics become sophisticated and ingrained in society, should we adapt human rights to accommodate the new species on the scene, or should we use human rights to steer the development of these new species? This co-evolution of technologies, society, and norms is one the most fascinating, and most complex, aspects of emerging technologies.
There are many augmentations available today and many more that are in the works for tomorrow. Human augmentation spans across a wide gamut of technologies, ranging from implants and prosthetics to powered exoskeletons, for enhancing innate human abilities, or replacing missing or defective functions such as damaged limbs. Progress in understanding human memory and brain functions will be critical to future brain-machine interfaces, while advances in flexible biocompatible electronics will enable better integration with the recipient of augmentations and recreate or enhance sensory experiences. Moral and ethical challenges to human augmentation are inevitable.
The technology must be sufficiently robust to prevent hacking and interference of human augmentation. It is certain that advances in synergistic and enabling technologies are necessary for improved practicality of human augmentation technologies.
This is article has been authored by Juhi Saini & Mohit Kokil from Great Lakes Institute Of Management