What is Human Augmentation Technology?

UTC by Osaemezu Ogwu · 14 min read
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What is Human Augmentation Technology?

Human augmentation has improved the way we live and the things we do as humans. Coupled with augmented reality and virtual reality, this technology creates different possibilities for humans. Which ones? Find out in this guide.

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. Today, people can go about their normal lives instead of being limited by disabilities. And even non-physically impaired individuals can be made smarter, stronger, and faster thanks to augmentation. These possibilities and many more can be tied to a combination of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other modern technologies to form augmentation.

Understanding of Human Augmentation Technology

Human augmentation is also known as human 2.0. It is a field of research that involves the use of medicine or technologies to improve human productivity or capability. As such, this field centers on adding to the human body to enhance the things we can do. Augmentation is, therefore, an interactive digital extension of human capabilities. An example is the use of technologies to enhance the capabilities of people with special needs or to lengthen the active life of aging citizens.

Definition of Human Augmentation Technology

Human augmentation can be defined as a field of study that focuses on methods and technologies that can be applied to improve the sensing, action, or cognitive abilities of humans. This improvement is attained through the use of sensing and actuation technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), and fusion & fission of information.

In the past, chemical substances ingested could improve selected abilities and the same was the case with installed implants. Today, advancements in modern technology have created a wide variety of implants and other technologies. Either of these are known as human augmentation, and they can be categorized into different classes.

For starters, there are orthotics or limb devices that improve muscle capability. There are also devices and implants that help in the development of more enhanced sensory devices. Human augmentation can also be used with certain IT resources such as big data assets. These assets are data-connecting devices that connect the human body to external sources of information. And this information can be visual, text-based, or both.

Use of External Tools to Provide Augmented Abilities

High-level success has been recorded with the use of external tools to provide augmented abilities. Some of these tools include eyeglasses, microscopes, binoculars, or highly sensitive microphones. And unlike medicine and installation of devices, which are invasive processes, augmented reality and multimodal interaction technologies have enabled non-invasive ways to augment humans.

Moreover, there has been a change in the trend where humans have to adapt to computers. It is believed that in the near future, more computers will have to adapt to humans. These machines will have to interact in a way that closely resembles the way humans act and interact with physical objects.

Potential Problems of Human Augmentation

Despite the potential benefits augmentation has in improving human health and quality life, concerns have been expressed about its use since it could trigger issues. There may be ethical and societal issues, as well as, social manipulation through the use of augmented devices. There’s also an unpredictable future to think about.

Part of the scientific community, for instance, is unsettled about human augmentation tools built on biotech and nanotechnology, and also other powerful tech concepts. These concerned individuals recommend that augmentation technologies should be monitored for long and short term impacts.

That aside, it is worth noting that human augmentation builds on earlier paradigms such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), perceptual interfaces, and ubiquitous computing. It combines the interaction where human action is the core. These actions are supported using augmenting technologies related to perceiving or relatively processing the world and information around the user.

Categories of Augmentation

There are three main categories of augmentation and these are senses, action, and cognition. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Augmented Senses

Augmented, extended, or enhanced senses are achieved through the interpretation of available multisensory information. This information is then presented to humans using selected senses. Some Sub-classes of augmented senses include augmented vision, haptic sensation, hearing, smell, and taste.

Furthermore, 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 sense 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.

Augmented Action

Augmented action involves sensing human actions and mapping them into actions in local, remote or virtual environments. Augmented action can be classified into subclasses including speech input, gaze-based controls, motor augmentation, amplified force, amongst others.

An example is the use of prosthetic limbs to enable a person with amputated limbs to lift and move objects. Likewise, exoskeletons enable paralyzed people to walk using robotic feet. Therefore, augmenting human action is an advancement over the natural human motor and sensory limits.

Over and above that, there are exoskeletons that can be used to carry out manual tasks that still require human intelligence. In this case, they provide humans with the strength to lift heavier items. They also reduce the pressure on the lower back area, which keeps pain at bay. However, human intelligence to determine where these items are to be placed is still in play.

Augmented Cognition

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. And 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.

Further, human-technology interaction exists when a tight coupling between the user and computer is actualized by sensing the physiological and neurophysiological of the user’s cognitive state. What’s more, augmented cognition integrates the information sourced from the users, and this information is used to adapt computer input to meet the user’s situational needs.

Alternatively, it has been argued that augmented cognition can offer support when it comes to human information processing in relation to working memory, sensory memory, attention, amongst others.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that overlays virtual objects and information on real-world scenes in real-time. AR takes advantage of the existing environment and integrates information to it to create a new artificial environment. But unlike virtual reality (VR) that replaces the user’s real-world with a simulated one, AR alters the user’s perception of their real-world environment.

In addition, a system that achieves three basic features can be said to use AR technology. These features include creating a combination of the real and virtual world, interacting in real-time, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects. A real-life example of AR is the Pokemon GO mobile game.

What’s more, major companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and even Google adopted AR in 2019. As of May 2019, the installed user base of mobile AR devices stood at 1.5 billion and there are expectations for more this year. The AR (mobile AR, smart glasses) installed base could exceed two and a half billion units by 2022 and revenue of $70 billion to $75 billion.

Real-Life Application of Augmented Reality

Some real-life application of augmented reality include:

Healthcare

According to Deloitte’s research, AR will transform the traditional healthcare business model. The latter can be tied to the benefits of AR applications in the healthcare industry. These applications are used in critical conditions to provide information pertaining to the treatment area to help with diagnosis as well as surgery and treatment plans.

Similarly, medical students use AR applications to train in AR environments, whereas doctors interact with patients using telemedicine options. There is AccVein, a handheld device that scans the patient’s vein network. And the device’s manufacturer claims its AccVein significantly reduces escalation calls by 45%.

Shopping

Gartner’s 2019 report reveals that at least 100 million people will utilize AR-enabled shopping technologies by 2020. In line with that, studies show that 48% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a seller that offers AR experiences. The same study revealed that 32% of retailers intend to use virtual or augmented reality applications within the next three years. But at the moment, only 15% of retailers use AR.

Sephora, for instance, is a cosmetic company that uses AR technology to enable its customers to try on lips, eye, and cheek makeup on their digital face. Likewise, Rolex uses AR to enable customers to try out different styles and models of its watches. As such, a potential customer has the knowledge if the product is right for them. It could potentially boost sales while at the same time offering customer satisfaction.

Warfare

Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR) is used to give the US Army improved situational awareness. TAR is an eyepiece that enhances the soldier’s visibility to locate their precise position and that of a friend or foe. This device is wirelessly connected to a tablet worn on the soldier’s waist. It is also connected wirelessly to a thermal site that is mounted on the user’s rifle or carbine.

There are expectations that TAR can be a good replacement to night-vision goggles, a device that enhances the soldier’s visibility in the dark. In line with that, TAR could potentially replace a handheld GPS system used by soldiers to approximate their location.

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology that helps the human brain to interpret the artificial and virtual environment as real. The terms ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’ denote ‘near’ and ‘what we experience’ as humans, respectively. It is a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment experienced by a person. VR applications can be aimed at entertainment (e.g video games), architectural, and educational (medical or military training) purposes.

VR takes advantage of the fact that we know the world using our senses and perception systems. These systems are the sense of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. Apart from the main sense organs, humans have other sensory inputs as well as the brain’s special way of processing sensory information.

Accordingly, presenting the human senses with information that is not real, using VR can simulate a perception of reality. It could also change the individual’s response to this information. The big idea behind VR is to present a virtual world that does not really exist but is perceived as if it did.

Recruitment and Training

There seems to be a trend with companies using VR to recruit and train potential employees. When it comes to recruitment, there is no need to meet one-on-one with the prospective candidate since an interview can be simulated. This interview will enable the selection of the best candidate for the job. Much more, candidates in different locations can be trained at the same time.

VR is also used in the corporate world to engage employees in real work challenges and scenarios. Even before potential employees are hired, they can be exposed to the real-life challenges that may await them once they take up respective positions in the company.

Healthcare

Like AR, the healthcare industry has benefited from the use of VR technologies. An instance is the case of King’s College Clinical Research facility, London. The facility uses its modern Virtual Reality Lab to treat patients with bipolar disorder. The lab takes advantage of motion sensors, enabling the user to walk through a virtual environment. What this does is to trigger a particular reaction from the patient.

VR technology has also served as a good assistant enabling medical students to learn and acquire the needed skills faster. Students can perform surgeries and perfect the art without actually experimenting on real patients. While this eliminates fear and the risk of losing the patient, it also enables them to put more hours into practice.

Treatment for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can be treated with the help of Virtual Reality. A study has shown that Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) is an effective treatment for PTSD. Accordingly, soldiers who are traumatized by their encounters after spending days, weeks, and months in combat are often treated with VR.

This treatment is also used for patients suffering from PTSD as a result of abuse, assault, accident, etc. A technology of this nature replays the experiences the patient went though which helps to curb their fears.

Other Examples of Human Augmentation

There are several examples of human augmentation and these are real-life use cases of this technology. There’s also a high adoption of these applications due to their ability to make people smarter, stronger, tougher, and even more attractive. That being said, some examples of human augmentation are:

Replication

Replication is the first level of human augmentation and it helps to recreate functions humans can achieve already. These functions include using the hands, legs, eyes, and even the ears to complete tasks or relate with others. As such, replication does not provide new functions but builds on existing functions.

For instance, a prosthetics arm or leg can be created for people who have lost theirs to an accident, tragic illness, or as a result of birth defect. The replicated arm or leg provides functions similar to a real human arm or leg. Either of these will enable a person to complete their daily tasks.

A real-life example of replication is with the wearable device eSight that enables legally blind individuals to see. This device takes the shape of glasses and it has cameras on the front that capture the space in near-eye quality. The captured images are displayed on the screen in front of the user’s eyes. There’s also MotionSavvy, a platform that helps to translate sign language into speech and vice versa. These products serve as a personal translator to deaf people.

Supplementation

Supplementation is the second level of human augmentation. It enables humans to perform functions they can already do, but better, faster, and more intelligently. Therefore, this is an advanced form of replication. What it does is to supplement our intellectual and physical limitations by improving our speed, strength, endurance, amongst others. Therefore, it enhances the human experience and our possibilities.

Some examples of supplementation include Neuralink, a project by Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk. Neuralink seeks to create a brain-computer interface (BCI) to enable humans to communicate with computers on the neural level. Another example is exoskeletons that can be worn outside the body. These are mechanical devices that give the wearer artificial strength and endurance.

Future Implementations of Human Augmentation

Asides from replication, there are projects striving to implement human augmentation to yield so many possibilities. Some of these are:

Synthetic Memory Chip

Theodore Berger, a neuroscientist is currently exploring ways to install synthetic memory chips into the human brain. The aim is to enable people to store more information and at the same time, retain it permanently. This chip can be compared to the working of a hard drive that stores more information, and which can be accessed speedily.

Invisibility Cloak

Decades ago it was only a trick or maybe magic that could make people disappear. However, researchers are currently finding ways to make people vanish into thin air using an invisibility cloak. However, the technology to make a human cloak is not ready yet, there has been significant progress since certain objects and surfaces can be made invisible.

Zapata Flyboard Air

Zapata Flyboard Air is a hoverboard powered by a turbine. This device is stood on like surfboard or skateboard but it lifts the user 500 feet into the air. The Zapata Flyboard Air has been launched, however, it is on the pricey side given that it costs almost half a million dollars. Nevertheless, the company behind the device is trying it to make it more practical for everyday use and less expensive.

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