Augmented humans

Leveraging technology to go beyond baseline.

Image courtesy of Mark Solarski via Unsplash

As a kid one of my favorite shows was The Six Million Dollar Man. If you didn’t grow up in the 70’s & 80’s Steve Austin was an astronaut critically injured during the crash of an experimental craft. In an operation that cost six million dollars he was saved with the help of bionics. This technology gave him super strength, speed, and vision. He was augmented and he was awesome.

Now I think when we hear about a human being augmented with technology we envision a science fiction nightmare. Cyborgs taking over the planet or technology invading our bodies and changing what it means to be human.

Many of us already augment ourselves. Glasses, knee braces, your cell phone, etc., we use a variety of technology to help us every single day. But how much augmentation is acceptable?

If you go to the eye doctor and your vision is bad they determine how to correct it with glasses. With technology your vision gets back to the human average. We’re all comfortable with that. But what if someone with perfect vision wanted to use glasses or contacts to see exact distances, surface temperatures, or speeds of moving objects?

Google Glass tried to augment our optical experience, where is it now?

When it comes to external augmentation we’re very comfortable. But what about internal augmentation? Insulin pumps and pace makers help keep people healthy and most are grateful for those technologies. Again they help the body get back to baseline so that people can live a close to normal life.

What about memory? Wouldn’t it be great to offer a memory augmentation implant for people with Alzheimers or dementia? I think that anyone who has experienced the pain of those diseases would be grateful for that technology.

Would we still be okay with memory augmentation for a healthy person? If a college student had a memory implant that provided instant record and recall would they be in violation of the code of conduct? In the classroom there is the issue of fairness. Unless all students have the same access to the augmentation technology it would be unfair to allow one student to benefit from it.

So far I think we are okay with the distinction that it’s fine to use technology to help you see the board, but it’s cheating to use technology to remember what you saw. It’s okay to use a calculator in increase your speed of computation, but it’s not okay to use a smart phone to remember a formula.

But what about in the real world? How are we going to feel about the people who leverage implants to see, smell, hear and remember better than the average human? Would you not hire them because they’re cheating?

As we rely more on augmentation we need to be prepared for an arms race of extended abilities.


I have a goal to write a post on Medium every day for the month of May, this is a big change for me. My focus is on how we can adapt and drive the changes we want to see in our lives. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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