Augmented humans: safe bet or a new risk profile?

Augmented humans: safe bet or a new risk profile?

By WorkplaceOHS editorial team on 21 June 2016 Devices embedded in our bodies to provide instant feedback on our focus, concentration and mental and physical performance could lead to large advances in workplace safety, a new report says.

“Embedded chemical pods, controlled by a neural interface, could be designed to release chemicals into our bodies to perform all kinds of tasks,” says the latest report from MYOB, The Augmented Human.

The feedback provided by such technology “could be especially useful in supporting workplace safety, helping manage the risks in areas where machinery, moving parts or hazards can make fatigue or inattention especially dangerous” the authors say.

The report also notes that smart drugs called Nootropics, which increase productivity and sharpen focus without the intensity or side effects of a prescription drug, are already growing in popularity.

And the embedded device may become so commonplace that your Mac genius may eventually “need to be a licenced medical practitioner, able to perform the minor operation required to install the iPhone 25 directly into a patch of skull behind your ear”.

The future the report predicts will thrill some but alarm others more suspicious of the bodily interventions suggested. It raises the prospect of workers being able to increase the flow of stimulants and reduce the dopamine flowing through their body to complete an urgent report, resetting their hormone levels for a set 20-minute powernap, or releasing an analgesic to relieve the pain and distraction of a weekend sport injury.

There is potential for technological advancements to improve safety in other ways: designers are looking at how exoskeletons could help humans work more productively and safely, with predictions that in the next decade we might see exoskeletons on building sites, helping workers hold large tools, lift or shift heavy objects or in a safer more agile manner at heights.

Risks can't be eliminated

The report does point to potential risks of such a future: someone may be able to disrupt your artificial heart or hack the functions of your embedded AI to affect your behaviour in a life-threatening way. The social changes such capabilities will bring “will require strong ethical management”, the report notes. 

At the same time, the report argues, “the pace of change and the gradual evolution of abilities will give us time to face these issues and plan the way the technologies are integrated into society”.

“Like any technology, there will be haves and have-nots and generational divides between the augmented natives and their future-shocked millennial parents. And there will be those that wish to opt out of the technology altogether on personal, social or religious grounds. 

“But ultimately, as we have seen in the proliferation of internet and smartphone technology throughout the world, there are also significant opportunities to share information and introduce new social and business opportunities to every corner of the globe.”

According to MYOB chief technology officer and futurist Simon Raik-Allen, the rise of the augmented human, where biology and technology blend to offer a whole range of physical and mental enhancements, is inevitable.

“We are on the cusp of an evolution revolution,” says Raik-Allen. 

“All sorts of things that are actually happening today, from neural transmitters to artificial hearts, are bringing about fundamental changes in the way we view and challenge the limitations of our biology."

The report, the third from the online accountancy software business, is available here.


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