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The research for this month’s issue required us to draw a difficult line between two categories of innovative technologies: the cutting-edge ones already in limited use in a business context versus the bleeding-edge ones still primarily theoretical. One example of the latter is human augmentation. 

According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle description, human augmentation focuses on creating cognitive and physical improvements as an integral part of the human body. One example: active control systems to create limb prosthetics possessing characteristics that exceed the highest natural human performance. 

Jackie Fenn, a vice president and fellow for emerging trends at Gartner, explains that human augmentation (also referred to by some as Human 2.0) is a longer-term technology seeking to get to the point at which humans can supersede nature. “An inspiration could be the South African runner with artificial legs [who] was too good to be able to compete in the Olympics because he had an advantage over people with normal legs,” she says, referring to South African Oscar Pistorius’ fight to race in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.  

While purely physical applications—for first responders, and military and emergency personnel—are the first realms in which human augmentation could make its mark, Fenn says there could be some business uses, though perhaps more cognitive in nature. 

“You can tap into how to bring improvement in decision making and memory, bringing us one step closer to being real-time and seamlessly integrated with our brains,” Fenn adds. “This is about bringing those capabilities closer so [they’re] with you all the time at your point of need, initially in some wearable format, but potentially closer and implantable ways.”

One application with regard to memory capabilities could be to figure out the face you just saw, tap into it, and have facial recognition—something of significant value to field-sales representatives who are constantly meeting-and-greeting. The only problem, according to Fenn? The moral and safety concerns associated with human augmentation—in particular, “whether people’s perceptions and benefits outweigh [the] risks of doing something strictly physical to oneself, like cosmetic surgery.”

She continues, “If someone sees the value-add, they’ll subject themselves to all kinds of things to look, feel, and act better. That’s the issue, though: Is the value proposition there in relation to health risks, like implanted chips with batteries in them and the unforeseen problems that could result?” We’ll see—though perhaps, by then, with a bionic eye.

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