24 July 2020

Tech Perspective #13: The Power of Human Augmentation

  • The risks of employee fatigue
  • Human limitations being eliminated?
  • Current applications of human augmentation technology

Have you ever felt too tired to function and perform even the easiest task at your work? Have you forgotten about some important errands just because you were too exhausted to think straight? If your answer is yes, then you experienced work fatigue.

According to Campbell Institute, fatigue can be defined as “feelings of tiredness, sleepiness, reduced energy, and increased effort needed to perform tasks at the desired level.” Fatigue reduces our concentration, motivation, and productivity. It also decreases decision-making abilities and resistance to stressful situations.

However, fatigue in a workplace can have direr consequences than just occasional yawns, or even a quick nap on the desk. It can put employees’ health, and even life, at risk.

With reduced concentration and decision-making abilities, employees are more likely to make stupid mistakes. And even a short lapse of judgment can cause serious accidents. Especially that many of the tired employees work in safety-critical industries like transportation, construction, manufacturing, and utilities.

However, scientists are working around the clock to find solutions for employees’ fatigue. One of the ground-breaking ideas to overcome our limitations is human augmentation.

Is Human Augmentation the Future?

Human augmentation is frequently mentioned as one of the hottest technological trends of 2020. It received media publicity because of both its potential revolutionary influence but also its controversial nature.

However, what exactly human augmentation is? According to Gartner, the field of human augmentation (sometimes referred to as “Human 2.0”) focuses on creating cognitive and physical improvements as an integral part of the human body.

Human augmentation technology includes a variety of different solutions. They aim to enhance productivity and to work as an extension of human capabilities. It can also relieve people of tiring and physically strenuous activities, or at least facilitate their execution. This technology can help with human limitations and unburden people both physically, and mentally, hence reducing the risk of fatigue, as well as ensuring safety.

Human augmentation is usually presented as an extremely futuristic technology, raising many eyebrows. However, the truth is that many forms of human augmentation already support us at work and in our everyday lives.

One of the examples of human augmentation being used in everyday life are microchips used by the employees at the Swedish unit of TUI, German travel company. Microchips allow them to seamlessly open doors and activate devices in the office. Seemingly insignificant, it relieves them of thinking about simple activities and reduces the number of distractions.

Examples of Human Augmentation in Work-Life

Human augmentation technology can be divided into three main types: replicating, supplementing, or exceeding human ability.

Replicating Human Ability

This kind of human augmentation refers to a technology that replicates abilities that a typical person can do. It replicates pre-existing functions and provides them to someone who couldn’t perform them on their own. Example of such a technology is MotionSavvy, translating sign language into speech and the other way round, acting as a translator, can significantly improve the lives of deaf people and facilitate communication between employees.

Supplementing Human Ability

It’s the next level of human augmentation. It enables us to perform activities that are already humanly possible but makes us better at them: faster, more productive, stronger, more durable. The first example that springs to mind are exoskeletons, currently being produced by Sarcos Robotics, allowing people to lift up to 90 kg, perform precise operations, and repeat motions without strain. Another interesting example is HoloLens 2, mixed reality glasses enabling people to visualise objects in holographic form.

Exceeding Human Ability

As the name suggests, this kind of human augmentation offers solutions to surpass human abilities. Being the most exciting, they’re also the most difficult to obtain. That’s why most technologies exceeding human ability are still in the process of development. One of the most intriguing ideas from this area, still only conceptual, is a solution proposed by neuroscientist Theodore Berger: synthetic memory chip. Installed in human brain, it may enable us to have perfect memory.

Human Augmentation Can Support Your Employees

Until recently, human augmentation solutions seemed like a sci-fi scenario. However, not only are they being developed but also being used on an everyday basis.

Human augmentation can significantly improve your employees’ performance, productivity, and physical endurance. Moreover, it can help fight with the scourage of our society: work fatigue.

There’s no doubt that human augmentation will revolutionise our lives, both professional and private.

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Marcin Bartoszuk
Chief Operating Officer

With Microsoft technologies related since 2005. He graduated from the Computer Science Faculty of the Bialystok University of Technology where he was the leader of the .NET Group and the Microsoft Student Partner. Four times finalist of the national stage of the Imagine Cup competition, and later the mentor and the jury member of the contest. Co-founder of the Bialystok .NET Group. He lectured .NET development at the Bialystok University of Technology. Microsoft MVP in the Client Application Development category in 2008-2010, when he actively participated in the IT community. Constant new technology enthusiast and IT consultant.