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The Challenges of Human Augmentation

The Challenges of Human Augmentation

In Chris Anderson’s book, Makers, he writes: “Computers amplify human potential: they not only give people the power to create but can also spread their ideas quickly, creating communities, markets, even movements.”

We’ve witnessed over the past several decades how much of an impact computerizing our world can have. While the concept may seem intimidating at first, human augmentation has much of the same potential. Between 2017 and 2023, the augmentation market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 44%.

It’s not a question of whether or not human augmentation will take place, but how quickly. Implementing the benefits of modern computing directly into our biological systems could solve a variety of medical issues and also provide us with the ability to surpass our organic limitations. Instead of looking at your phone and saying, “it can do anything,” we would look to ourselves and say, “we can do anything.”

Shifting Perception 

Human augmentation isn’t just about “upgrading” ourselves. It’s about broadening our senses to change how we perceive the world. One of the best examples of this is North Sense. North Sense is a small device by Cyber Nest that attaches to a person’s chest. Any time the wearer is facing true north, the device vibrates.

The idea is not to give the wearer a cell-phone-style notification in case they happen to get lost. Instead, the focus is on how we perceive our environments. After a while of wearing the device, the vibration stops feeling like a notification and simply becomes a natural part of your daily life—like your sense of taste or smell. Possibilities like this are exciting, and many are just around the horizon.

The Challenges of Implementation 

While making human augmentation a reality, engineering teams have a lot of challenges to contend with. Each new idea must be evaluated from many different angles to ensure its viability. Since this is a relatively new field of technology, it is even more important to ask questions in many areas, including:

1. Technological Needs

Is the technology available to support the concept? Are the components, sensors, processing power, and tools already there, or will they need to be developed? This is an important concern for budget and feasibility.

2. User-Friendliness and Integration

How do you make a product that’s easy to use and doesn’t interfere with what the user is doing? To be successful, an augmentation must work seamlessly with its user. After all, the goal is to be an augment (and not a hindrance) to users.

3. Reliability

Augments go beyond what a user is capable of doing on their own. Thus, reliability is important. For instance, what happens if you develop an exoskeleton that can lift 200 pounds, and it fails while someone is wearing it? To be useful, an augment needs to be extremely reliable.

4. Safety

If someone will work closely and frequently with a device (or potentially wear or implant it), safety is the most important concern. Augments need to be tested to rigorous safety standards in all facets.

5. Acceptance

Are people ready for this technology? Will they accept it? It’s hard to know exactly how the public will receive new technology. But more user research and testing upfront will give creators a sense of how a product will be received.

6. Ethical Concerns

Before diving into augmentation, it’s important to consider to what extent the human body should be augmented. Before making new technology available to the public, it will be up to companies to consider the far-reaching implications of their products.

Wrap Up

There’s certainly a lot to think about with any human augmentation project. But a well-executed project has the opportunity to expand what’s possible for humans. It takes careful research and a talented development team to turn an augmentation idea into a success.

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Jeff Alexander

Jeff Alexander

Chief Science Officer

Jeff is Fresh’s Chief Science Officer and an innovator with over 20 years of engineering experience. Prior to Fresh, Jeff founded SiTech Research Test and Development, a comprehensive product development and test systems solution provider whose clients included Philips, Universal Electronics, and Fortune 100 companies.

Jeff’s career spans nearly a decade at Microsoft where he helped develop successful products like the original Xbox and the Xbox Kinect; as well as stints as Principal Hardware Architect at Nokia, developing innovative IoT products and image sensors; and as a lead engineer at LaserMotive, where he played a primary role in the design of a laser targeting and delivery system which won an award from NASA.

He holds a BSEE from University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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