Often with a joke I hear friends say that to get (or keep) a job today you need superpowers (the most sexist and vulgar in the case of nice colleagues argue the need for other skills). The future is made up of many things, and an important theme is precisely that of human enhancement, the improvement of physical and mental performance that may arise from the use of new technologies or medical procedures: in this article I want to offer you some ideas to reflect on.
Having said that, here are the possible contributions of human enhancement in the world of work:
There are many ways of increasing cognitive abilities in humans. Education, culture and exercise are obviously not considered on this list. Over the next decade, an increasingly elderly population will consider new means of advance very carefully. The most innovative approaches are:
Substances initially used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders (Ritalin and in general Methylphenidate [endnote http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metilfenidato]. Atomoxetine [endnote http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomoxetina], a selective inhibitor of the pre-synaptic transport mechanism of noradrenaline. Modafinil [endnote http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modafinil], atypical stimulant) can also improve memory and concentration in healthy individuals, helping them to work more efficiently and for longer. The near future could lead to 'cleared' and undesirable formulations of drugs that improve 'response' at work. In the same way, the ability to concentrate and maintain performance can also be improved.
Advanced learning softwares can improve the way our brain responds to stimuli and absorbs information, especially for specific tasks: new computational models 'trained' to better accommodate the rhythms of our learning and our selective attention can radically change corporate training methods and make the knowledge necessary for our work easier to acquire and remember.
Brain stimulation, especially that performed with non-invasive techniques[endnote Transcranial magnetic stimulation: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stimolazione_magnetica_transcranica], will improve learning times and ways: transcranial stimulation methods currently include magnetic or electrical impulses sent to a subject through a helmet to modulate the neuronal excitability of some parts of our brain, to increase their performance.
Internet and collective knowledge will be used (with the increasingly widespread diffusion of mobile devices) to improve the approach to work and the exchange of knowledge, especially in relation to complex problems: the Wiki and Social model could merge to create a mixed knowledge system between 'stable' information and information that can be updated virtually in real time.
To date, physical advancement has essentially been developed in relation to function recovery: in the next decade, many new applications will extend the field.
With the growth of the average age in the workforce, more and more people will be looking for systems that can preserve perceptual abilities for a long time and reverse the decline in functions. New generation hearing implants will improve listening and communication skills (first in military scenarios, then in civilian ones). New vision repair and improvement techniques will also be widely used: retinal implants, gene transfers and photoreceptor transplantation of the eye are currently under development.
We all know the technology behind the exoskeletons, motor systems capable of restoring and improving the functionality of the legs and individual mobility: the large-scale application of these systems will certainly also involve manual work. The new generations will be more automated, wearable and flexible, and will allow people to easily and effectively overcome the limits of human motility.
Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine they are offering important new possibilities to replace damaged parts of our body, and will help workers to maintain operations even after accidents. Applications and implants of bones and joints currently undergoing clinical trials will become increasingly widespread and will include parts of the body (such as the trachea) that are still excluded today. In a few years, the production of entire organs will be achieved [endnote A closer look is already happening: https://www.futuroprossimo.it/realizzato-dal-nulla-organo-sintetico-con-cellule-staminali/899/], but we will have to wait a little longer to evaluate its actual compatibility with our body. Another important milestone for the next decade could come from the combination of stem cells and cardiac implants.
Proper nutrition it will always be at the basis of an individual's well-being and health: many foods will be able to focus on providing benefits to specific aspects of performances (such as endurance, recovery times, speed). Future applications can be developed when the neuronal mechanisms underlying fatigue are known.
And after the Plus, let's also put the Minus
The potential implications of all these human advancements cannot naturally be free of risks or possible empty jokes, and there will certainly be difficulties in disseminating them: here are some reflections that I have pinned (if you think of others, just comment on some of them ):
- Advances can benefit the efficiency of employees and also the balance of hours worked, but could also lead to greater exploitation of workers, and unbridled competitiveness that certainly could not benefit the well-being of workers.
- The work required to consider the potential risks of new technologies requires decisions based on data that we do not yet fully understand.
• The usefulness of new technologies will vary greatly depending on the context of application. Advances will bring benefits to different professions and in different ways, and this will be problematic in the long run: true human advancement will be possible when a single technology, a single apparatus can individually adapt to each individual, producing different improvements and responses on the individual.
• Many difficulties will be raised regarding the adoption of human advancements in professions which include third party liability: it will be really difficult to see surgeons or motor vehicle passengers adopting technological or pharmacological solutions to improve performance. It will take a long time and various political, ethical and philosophical responses.
• If the advancements reach the mass of the workforce there is a risk that many employees will be forced by contract to adopt them to reach quality or production standards: this could lead to major consequences and ethical risks on individual freedom.
Disability: a concrete hope.
A final corollary on which I am reflecting (and derives from the last reasoning in the list among the 'Minus') and which makes me smile with contentment in imagining the future is a possible consequence of human enhancement concerning the share of work managed by people with disabilities: the number of disabled people able to carry out work in an average manner and timing will increase significantly. According to ISTAT, there are more than 3 million disabled people in Italy: of these, over one million have significant problems with mobility, motor coordination, resistance to weight. 50% of them are of working age. The improvements in technology will allow us to have them all as co-workers, hoping that the future will allow us to have it, a job :)