Robotics and Human Augmentation
Robotics and Human Augmentation
Ever since the creation of Neuralink, we have been hearing about human augmentation quite often. Its market is on pace to reach USD $206.9 billion by 2024. Let’s take a look at the current state of the human augmentation technology and what to expect in the future.
What is Human Augmentation?
Human Augmentation refers to any technology that enhances the capabilities of human beings beyond what is naturally possible. Contrary to what some may think, human augmentation technology does not seek to create cyborgs like the kind you may find in a sci-fi movie, at least not for a while. Instead, fusing ourselves with technology will help us move towards a better and more equal society, one in which artificial methods can bridge the physical differences among people.
Why is Human Augmentation Desirable?
Imagine a world without disabilities and chronic diseases like AIDS or Cancer. It’s not a pipe dream. Many scientists are working on breakthrough gene-editing techniques like CRISPR that seek to cure medical conditions that have plagued us since our genesis. That means, down the line, those of us that are genetically predisposed to develop terminal illnesses can modify ourselves to live long, healthy lives.
Enhancing ourselves with technology is something that humankind has dreamed of ever since we learned to make tools for hunting. Today, thousands of years later, we may have moved from bronze arrowheads to the internet, but the thirst for improvement still lurks within.
To wrap your head around the concept, consider the modern smartphone and how these six-inch devices have permeated our lives. Granted, they are not a part of our body, but if you think about it, most of us are probably never more than a few feet away from our phones.
Smartphones have enabled us to expand our knowledge beyond what we can memorize. It has also made the world smaller and more accessible by enabling things like worldwide navigation and high-quality video conferencing. Gone are the days when humans had to physically congregate to get work done, discuss ideas, or connect with loved ones.
In other words, smartphones have transformed the social structure of modern society and augmented what it means to be human. But even then, they are just the tip of the human augmentation iceberg. When you throw robotics and nano-tech into the mix, things get a lot more interesting.
The Current State of Robotics and Human Augmentation
In a paper by Hugh Herr, a member of the advisory board at MIT, the role of robotics for human augmentation has been discussed at length. The first two lines of the abstract read: “Fundamental advances in robotics will extend human sensory experience, physicality, and cognition to an unprecedented level. Aided by augmentation technology, the future human will be stronger, faster, less prone to injury, and more productive.”
The paper discusses the use of “tissue-synthetic” interfaces to connect our biological bodies with machines. Such a technology will interact directly with our cells to help us gain abilities and overcome difficulties that our bodies naturally cannot. A prototype prosthetic created on these principles helped a test subject with an upper-extremity amputation to make out the shape of objects and assess their stiffness.
All that sounds promising, but how much money are we putting into augmenting humans? What does the broader picture look like? Let’s discuss.
Where is the Money at
A survey by MarketsAndMarkets in 2019 projected the human augmentation market to grow from USD 70.9 billion in 2019 to USD 206.9 billion by 2024. Most of the investment under this category is slated to go towards infusing technology into the healthcare sector and developing wearable products that use AI.
In the US, surveys have shown increasing public interest in wearables. Presently, Apple and Google are at the cusp of releasing AR (Augmented Reality) glasses. These can help enhance navigation by placing pointers right into the real world. They will also come equipped with sensors for facial recognition as well as built-in web-search capabilities.
In Asia, Japan and India are hotspots for the human augmentation market. The ubiquity of smartphones and tech-savvy people in Japan make it a hub for human enhancement tech. India, on the other hand, provides cheap labor to develop wearables and other gadgets.
Human Augmentation in 2021
Presently, Elon Musk’s venture Neuralink is a frontrunner in developing Brain-Computer Interfaces. It uses diodes attached to your head to detect brain signals that then get converted into digital input. Elsewhere, Google is working on an auto-translate feature for earphones that can seamlessly translate the language of whoever you may be speaking with to your native tongue.
In the medical field, advanced hearing aids and neurally-controlled artificial limbs are in various stages of experimentation. People are presently using AI and sensory augmentation tech to assist radiologists in conducting more accurate diagnoses. The US Military is even financing some of these projects.
The Future of Human Augmentation
For all the progress we have made, robotics and human augmentation are still in the early stages right now. To get a feel for the future, Forbes asked 12 tech leaders in May 2020 about what form of enhancement they are most excited about. Their answers ranged from using AI for superhuman sensory enhancement to CRISPR for gene editing.
The article revealed that tech-entrepreneurs envision a future where factory workers are kitted with robotic exoskeletons (think mech-suits from Pacific Rim) to help them lift heavy objects. Others would like to see nano-bots introduced into our bloodstreams that can constantly monitor our health and repair muscle or tissue damage faster than usual.
In the world of business, executives wearing smart glasses or contact lenses will utilize AI and analytics tools to make fast-paced decisions even when they are on the move. AR tech will allow people to visualize problems on the real world’s canvas instead of having to draw diagrams on paper.
The article also uncovered how they visualized a future where architects, engineers, doctors, and even sportspersons will use human augmentation technology to perform their jobs better.
In the farthest of futures, actual cybernetically enhanced humans will be the pioneers for deep space exploration and colonizing other planets. These people will be able to go days without food or sleep and maybe even live for thousands of years.
The world we live in today clearly shows why we need human augmentation. Disease, inequality, and poverty still plague our species even thousands of years after the establishment of a civilized society. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed several vulnerabilities in the way the world functions when dependent on disease-prone humans. In light of all this, it is evident that we need to enhance ourselves to solve these issues.
Without a doubt, robotics and human augmentation will have deep-rooted implications for the future of humankind because these tools will allow us to take control of our evolution. No longer shall we be dependent on the tide of nature to make us better suited to our world. With human augmentation, we can become the masters of our own destiny.
Interested in learning more? Join us virtually at Big Data and AI Toronto on October 13-14 where industry experts will be covering many different topics including human augmentation.