Bionic Man

Bionic Britain: technological revolution in the workplace

Bionic limbs, brain-enhancing drugs and vision-improving implants are set to be part of a technological revolution hitting the workplace in the near future.

A new report heralds expert’s expectations on the dramatic changes in the workplace over the next decade. This change is the result of progress in technologies that are primed to enhance human performance.

The impact of these mind and body enhancing technologies could be both good and bad, say the experts from four leading academies. Individuals with physical and mental disabilities may be given greater work opportunities from these technological breakthroughs. While, also, the technology may also help peoples overcome the effects of ageing, or damage inflicted by illness or injury.

In the workplace employees could feel themselves under pressure to adopt performance-enhancing measures or find themselves left behind. The performance-drugs will favour those financially able to invest in them. As a result, those who are better off and able to buy access to the technology could also have an unfair advantage.

Professor Genevra Richardson at King's College, London, has led a workshop on the issue, hosted by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society. Professor Richardson announced: "We're not talking science fiction here. These technologies could influence our ability to learn or perform tasks, they could influence our motivation, they could enable us to work in more extreme conditions or in old age, or they could facilitate our return to work after illness or disability.

"The report recognises that although human enhancement technologies may benefit society in very important ways, their use at work also raises serious ethical, political and economic questions that demand further broad consideration."

This announcement is not unprecedented in current pharmaceutical trends. Drugs are used currently to boost memory or mental alertness by healthy people, the demographic including students and those with demanding jobs.

One such drug is modafinil, a prescription for sleep disorders that also improves mental performance while reducing impulsive behaviour. Researchers have estimated that up to 16% of students in the US use cognitive enhancers.

Physical technologies such as super-sensitive hearing aids, vision devices and mechanical limbs or "exoskeletons" are also likely to have occupational applications.

Experts also reported that these technologies are already being explored by the military.

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