What Do Military Researchers Think About Human Augmentation Technologies
Better humans means better citizens… and better soldiers
In the midst of researching the UK's artificial intelligence policies for the AI Safety Summit, I unexpectedly stumbled upon a gem hidden within the Ministry of Defence's section of government publications. Titled 'Human Augmentation – The Dawn of a New Paradigm,' this document, with its intriguing subject matter, immediately captured my attention.
Over the last few days, I delved deep into this 110-page report so that you wouldn't have to. The report explores the enhancement of human capabilities – physical, psychological, and social – through emerging technologies, unveiling a realm filled with both possibilities and ethical quandaries. This exploration unravelled the nuances of human augmentation from a defence angle and illuminated its far-reaching societal impacts.
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What Is the Human Augmentation – The Dawn of a New Paradigm About?
“We want ‘warfighters’ - whether they be cyber specialists, drone pilots or infantry soldiers - to be stronger, faster, more intelligent, more resilient and mobile to overcome the environment and the adversary”
'Human Augmentation – The Dawn of a New Paradigm' was researched and written by a team of German, Swedish, Finnish, and British Defence specialists exploring how various emerging human augmenting technologies can change societies and how those changes can impact warfare. It asserts that human augmentation, the enhancement of physical, psychological, and social capabilities through technology, is becoming increasingly relevant and has the potential to significantly disrupt and transform every aspect of our lives, including warfare, society, and individual human experience.
Today, human augmentation technologies are in their very early stages. However, as the report states, within the next 30 years, these emerging technologies are expected to cause a significant shift in how humans interact with technology and the environment. Therefore, human augmentation necessitates a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to understand, manage, and effectively integrate these advancements into society.
The authors of the document highlight the need for careful consideration of the ethical, legal, and policy implications of human augmentation. They call for proactive engagement in these areas to ensure that the development and application of human augmentation technologies align with societal values and national interests.
It is worth noting that this document was released in May 2021, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war. The first conflict has significantly altered the global Defence landscape, leading to increased military spending and modernisation worldwide. The impact of the second, more recent conflict on military thinking is still evolving. Most of the concepts introduced in the report will still be valid. However, recent events can have an influence on how human augmentation is seen by militaries.
The document does not represent the official policy or strategy of the UK government, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) or the countries contributing to the project. It does, however, represent the view of the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, a department within the UK MoD, and Bundeswehr Office for Defence Planning, a department within the German Federal Ministry of Defence.
Nevertheless, the contents of this document can provide insight into which technologies NATO may invest in as a part of NATO’s 1 billion euro Investment Fund. Human enhancements are listed as one of the areas the alliance is interested in investing in.
Human Augmentation Is Inevitable
Let’s begin with what the authors of the document mean by 'human augmentation'. They define it as 'the application of science and technologies to temporarily or permanently improve human performance'.
Based on that definition, one can argue that human augmentation has been practised for ages. We have been using various drugs throughout the ages to boost our physical performance or to alter our emotions. Modern examples of human augmentation can include vaccines or gene therapies. Even some commonplace items like glasses can be viewed as human augmentation.
Human augmentation can be further subdivided into human performance optimisation and human performance enhancement. By human performance optimisation, the authors refer to any improvements up to the human biological limits without adding new capabilities. Human performance enhancement goes beyond human limits and can include new capabilities that don’t naturally occur in humans, like night vision.
According to the report, human augmentation is inevitable and it will be the first insight into the Biotech Age. The technology that enhances human performance is being developed and, in some cases, is already deployed, albeit on a small scale or as therapy or rehabilitation tools. There are also threats and opportunities that human augmentation can address. Lastly, there is a growing demand from society for this kind of technology to be available, a demand that could turn out to be highly profitable and create a new market segment.
The report predicts that human augmentations, whether commercial or military, will be common within the next 30 years. The availability of methods to enhance human performance on many levels, from physical to mental and social, will have a profound impact on how we see ourselves and how we relate to each other. However, the current focus on the machine rather than on the human aspect needs to change first.
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