Gartner tech trends 2020: augmented humans

By Harry Menear
Earlier this month, Gartner released its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020. As 2019 draws to a close, Gigabit Magazine is doing a series break...

Earlier this month, Gartner released its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020. As 2019 draws to a close, Gigabit Magazine is doing a series breaking down the biggest technology trends set to reshape the global business landscape over the next year. 

Sometimes referred to as Human 2.0, the field of technologically augmented people covers a wide range of cognitive and physical improvements to an organic workforce. 

In principal, humans have been using available technology to augment themselves since the first cave dwellers used sharpened obsidian tied to sticks to poke holes in their dinner from a distance. Humanity’s dominance of the planet Earth is thanks to our ability to use our brains to manipulate and enhance our natural physical abilities. Inventions as old as the abacus have been helping people enhance our physical abilities since the 14th Century. 

So, what makes 2020 the year when the unending drive for humans to make themselves better, faster, stronger and smarter using technology finally achieves “Human 2.0”? 

The experts at Gartner believe that advances in technology are set to dramatically enhance not only physical and cognitive capabilities, but the decision making process as well. 

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Physical augmentation falls into four main categories, according to Gartner: Sensory augmentation (hearing, vision, perception), appendage and biological function augmentation (exoskeletons, prosthetics), brain augmentation (implants to treat seizures) and genetic augmentation (somatic gene and cell therapy). 

2019 did see a pretty dazzling array of developments in the field of human augmentation. In addition to things like wearables (using AR and VR to create heads up displays and deliver expertise and training remotely) becoming common in the manufacturing and mining industries, French scientists restored mobility to a quadripeligic man who had spent four years paralysed, following an accidental 50 foot fall. Using an exoskeleton controlled by his mind, the 30-year-old subject walked 10 meters using the power of his mind (and a state of the art Iron Man suit). “I felt like I was the first man on the Moon,” he said after the test. “I didn’t move for two years and I had forgotten what it was like to stand.”

Beyond medical and mobility applications, exoskeletons could be applied to the roles of firefighters, soldiers and even workers who constantly move heavy loads (future employees of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation will be pleased I’m sure). 

Some industry thought leaders see en masse human augmentation as the next and inevitable step in the evolution of our society and business models. Clark Quinn, executive director at Quinnovation believes that, “In 50 years, we will have mastered the art of human augmentation. Our digital world will interact with our physical world seamlessly, so that our physical actions can have semantics, and vice-versa. Our senses will be amplified, the world will be annotated and there will be guidance and warnings on our actions.”

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