What is Human Augmentation Technology?

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by John Caroline · 10 min read
What is Human Augmentation Technology?
Photo: Depositphotos

Human augmentation has significantly improved the way we live and the things we do as humans. The comprehensive guide below will help you understand all that there is to know about human augmentation.

The advancements in modern technology have led to the advent of human augmentation, a technology that improves the way we do things and perceive our environment. With human augmentation, the boundaries between science fiction and reality are rapidly becoming blurred, and the essence of humanity undergoes a profound transformation.

Human potentials are seeing unprecedented redefinition,  from the restoration of mobility through futuristic limbs to the seamless integration of the mind with machines, and the precise editing of our genetic code for improved health, the story of human augmentation builds as a narrative of unmatched innovation.

In the guide below, we will explore everything there is to know about human augmentation: its types, the underlying technology, the existing types, and the opportunities it opens for the world.

Definition of Human Augmentation Technology

Human augmentation is a term that describes the use of technologies to enhance human capabilities. It is a field that explores methods and technologies and how they are applied to enhance the human capabilities of sense, action and/or cognition. This is done with the use of sensing and actuation technologies, fusion and fission of information, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) methods. The primary objective of human augmentation is to improve human performance, health or the quality of human life.

It’s important to point out that human augmentation also applies to studies and experiments on how humans and machines can work in synergy. This can be seen in the continuous development of applications and capabilities of artificial intelligence.

Workers, civil servants, students, scientists and caregivers in many aspects of work can accelerate their working pace and provide smarter inputs for enhanced outputs with the consolidation of artificial intelligence and automation under the guidance of expert humans.

Human augmentation works with the use of technology to enhance human abilities. With human augmentation, humans are able to use technology to conveniently access new skills, other than just improving existing ones and this proves useful in so many obvious ways. Below are four specific ways in which human augmentation works:

  • Physical augmentation. This involves adding several components of technology to the human body like prosthetics or exoskeletons, to improve mobility and strength.
  • Cognitive augmentation. This includes the engagement of cognitive functions through technology, cognitive functions such as memory, attention, or problem-solving are a few cases.
  • Biological augmentation. This involves modifying the biological aspects of the body, like genetic engineering or the use of pharmaceuticals to improve physical or cognitive abilities.
  • Sensory augmentation. This is an enhancement or addition to human sensory capabilities, like night vision or enhanced hearing aided by technological devices.
  • Human-computer integration. This is the facilitation of seamless interaction between humans and computers, which enables more efficient communication and control. Interfaces like voice commands, gestures, or direct neural interfaces are common features in this process. In achieving these augmentations, a combination of advanced hardware, software, and medical procedures can be adopted to improve human performance and experience.

Origin of Human Augmentation

Ancient Greek mythology holds the roots for the first mention of the concept of human augmentation, with narratives of humans attempting to enhance their abilities beyond their natural limits in stories like the myth of Icarus. However, it was not until the 19th century that the first serious scientific discussion of human augmentation took place with speculations from philosophers and scientists like Francis Bacon and H.G. Wells about the possibility of improving human performance and capabilities with the use of technology.

One of the most classic studies on human augmentation is believed to be the article written by Douglas Engelbart and published by the Stanford Research Institute in 1962. The idea of human augmentation in the early 20th century gained support among transhumanists who believe that it is both possible and desirable to use technology to enhance human abilities. They posit that human augmentation could help humans overcome their biological limitations and achieve their full potential.

Since its early beginning, there has been a significant evolution in the concept of human augmentation. In the past, it only existed as science fiction. In recent years however, interest in human augmentation technologies has witnessed massive growth, as advances in fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology have made it possible to develop new and innovative ways to enhance human performance. Some of the most popular examples of human augmentation technologies that have been developed in recent years include Cochlear implants, Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and Prosthetic limbs.

As these technologies continue to develop, they possess the potential to change the way we live and work.

Types of Human Augmentation

Human augmentation can best be discussed under the following classification:

  1. Sensory Augmentation

Sensory augmentation is the use of technology to enhance human senses. Sensory augmentation can be used for restoring impaired senses, improving existing senses, or providing new senses. Thus, this category of augmentation adopts methods and technologies that make up for the effects of sensory impairments. Here, the sensory signals of the impaired senses are amplified using healthy senses. An example is the use of haptic actuators to describe the environment to a blind person. The same technology can be used to interpret speech signals to a deaf person.

On the other hand, augmented senses can also improve the capabilities of existing senses. This is made possible by augmenting human senses with the use of more sensors to observe signals that are beyond normal human sensory capabilities. These signals are then transformed into a suitable format that humans can use. Light sensors or tiny cameras are some technologies that can enable the human to see clearly even in the dark.

Subcategories include the following:

  • Vision. Visual augmentation devices can help people with impaired vision to have better vision. Eyeglasses, contact lenses, and implants such as bionic eyes are a few examples.
  • Hearing. People with impaired hearing can hear better with hearing augmentation such as hearing aids and cochlear implants (surgically implanted to restore hearing for individuals with hearing impairments).
  • Touch. Touch augmentation devices can help people with impaired touch to experience enhanced feelings. Examples include prosthetics with tactile feedback and haptic devices for virtual reality.
  • Smell. Smell augmentation devices can provide better smelling sense for people with impaired smell. Examples of these technologies are still in development but could include implantable devices that stimulate the olfactory nerve.
  • Taste. Taste augmentation devices can help people with impaired taste to have better taste. Though, still in development, examples could include implantable devices that stimulate the taste buds.

2. Action Augmentation.

Action augmentation is the enhancement of human physical abilities using technology. It involves sensing human actions and mapping them into actions in local, remote or virtual environments. It can be used to improve strength, speed, endurance, or coordination in humans. Augmented action can be classified into subclasses including speech input, gaze-based controls, motor augmentation, and amplified force, amongst others.

Examples are as follows:

  • Exoskeletons. These are wearable devices that can provide extra strength and support to the recipient. They are used mostly in industrial and military settings, but they are also being developed to be used in medical and rehabilitation settings.
  • Prosthetic limbs. These technologies can replace lost or damaged limbs. Currently, some prosthetic limbs are equipped with sensors and motors that enable users to use their thoughts to control them.
  • Neural implants. Neural implants can be used to control devices directly with the mind.

3. Cognitive Augmentation

Augmented cognition is a field of research that combines cognitive psychology, neuroscience, engineering, computer science, and human-computer interaction (HCI). This type of augmentation is made possible by detecting the human cognitive state. The detection is carried out using analytical tools to correctly interpret and adapt the computer’s response to coincide with the current and future needs of the user. It can be used to improve memory, attention, processing speed, or problem-solving skills.

Examples of cognitive augmentation include:

  • Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). BCIs allow users to control devices directly with their thoughts. These technologies can be used to enhance human cognitive abilities, such as memory and attention, or to control prosthetic limbs and other devices. Examples of brain augmentation also include deep brain stimulation (electrodes treat Parkinson’s and psychiatric disorders) and neurofeedback devices (Muse uses EEG for focus and relaxation training).
  • Nootropics. Nootropics are drugs or supplements that claim to improve cognitive function. While some require a prescription, others are available over-the-counter
  • Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that trains people to control their brain activity with the use of real-time EEG data. Neurofeedback improves cognitive function in people with different conditions, including ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

Pros & Cons of Human Augmentation

The benefits and prospects of human augmentation are already being seen and felt in today’s era of technology. The breakthroughs are quite extraordinary and perplexing.

Among the major advantages of human augmentation are enhanced capabilities and collaboration. Humans now have the luxury of enhancing their capabilities with the help of human augmentation in ways which were previously not possible. From providing compensation for an impairment to improving existing human skills. Human augmentation creates new possibilities and experiences for what being human means and enables humans to exceed their natural limits.

Besides, human augmentation ensures optimized performance. Different aspects of human activities have been further enhanced by human augmentation, enabling humans to achieve more than they would normally be able to in the presence of varying physical and mental constraints. There is the optimization of senses, greater cognitive processes, and improved physical capabilities. Humans can achieve a whole lot with the power of this technology.

As human augmentation technologies are still undergoing deeper studies, experimentations and development, they have yet to become fully functional with minimal or zero underlying risks. They are thus viewed by most people as controversial and unsafe. In addition, there are ethical questions that pop up when it comes to human augmentation. The conversation around human augmentation engenders questions about technology, business, and societal ethics. This is partly attributed to the uncertainty about the extent this technology will go, which in some contexts of imagination can be quite frightening.

Besides, the access to human augmentation technologies which provide enhancement of strength, senses and cognitive abilities by people who can afford such technologies poses an unfair advantage over others who are unable to. This is reflected in a number of human activities like sports competitions, job applications, institutional examinations, etc.

The Future of Human Augmentation

The boundaries of what it means to be humans will be further expanded with the potential advancements that human augmentation technologies promise to unfold in the future. Things that were once possible only in movies and the human imagination are now seen and experienced in real-time with possibilities of even further capabilities. The hope of many people with hearing and visual impairments, cognitive disabilities and others is ignited for a promising future.

The pages of the future are still being written, with unexpected breakthroughs and applications unveiled in each chapter. As humanity assails this uncharted territory, the story of human augmentation unfolds with possibilities and uncertainties.

Bottom Line

Human augmentation can be seen as upgrading people with cool technologies to make them stronger, smarter, and healthier. By upgrading, we’re talking about super-advanced prosthetics, brain-computer interfaces, and even altering genes to get things working normally or much better.

But if anything, history has taught us well about having the right tools in the wrong hands or using them in a way that causes more harm than good. So, we need to be quite careful about how we use these upgrades. It’s not just about making people powerful. It’s also about making sure we’re doing it in a fair and ethical way.

The future of human augmentation depends on how well we balance the amazing possibilities with making sure everyone gets a fair shot at the benefits. In a sense, it’s like a story where we’re all learning how to use these cool powers responsibly.



What is human augmentation?

Human augmentation is the use of technology to enhance human capabilities and performances as well as enable human and computer interaction.

Why is human augmentation so important?

Human augmentation is important because it enables people to do things beyond their physical abilities, helps to prevent and reduce certain genetic disorders and improves the performance of several human activities.

What are the types of human augmentation?

Human augmentation can be categorized into sensory augmentation (the use of technology to enhance human senses), action augmentation (the enhancement of human physical abilities using technology), and cognitive augmentation (possible by detecting the human cognitive state).

Where can human augmentation tech be applied?

Human augmentation technology can be applied in many areas, some of which are the restoration of hearing and visual impairments, detection and correction of genetic abnormalities, enhancement of memory capacity, etc.

What are the long-term effects of human augmentation?

The long-term effects of human augmentation suggest a huge financial cost as the technologies are still new and undergoing continuous development. There could also be cases of permanent alterations of physical features in events of surgeries.

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