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Our Cyborg Future: 16-nation study finds support for human augmentation

Research says most of us would change something about ourselves if we could. But many fear human augmentation could be reserved for the rich – and that our bodies could even be the target for cybercriminals.

New research released today has uncovered widespread enthusiasm for human augmentation – the process of augmenting or improving the human body with technology.

The research – commissioned by security firm Kaspersky – found that 92 percent of us would change a physical aspect of ourselves if we could while nearly two thirds (63 percent) of us would consider augmenting our bodies with technology to improve them – either permanently or temporarily.

The wide-reaching study of 14,500 adults across 16 countries in Europe and North Africa found that Italians are the most likely to consider human augmentation (81 percent) and Brits the least (33 percent). Some respondents even expressed the desire to connect smartphones to their bodies.

Most people were clear that they wanted human augmentation to be used for the good of humanity, with 53 percent of people saying it should be used to improve quality of life. Across the board, in every country, the objective for any human augmentation was to improve overall physical health (40 percent) or eyesight (33 percent).

Some doubts remain though, with respondents stating that they feared augmentation would be limited to the wealthy (69 percent), while nearly nine out of 10 (88 percent) people stated that they feared their bodies could be hacked by cyber criminals.

Previously the preserve of science fiction, the concept of human augmentation – the process of recreating or enhancing our physical and mental abilities – has gained currency recently as digital technology has become an increasingly important part of our daily lives.

Marco Preuss, Director of the Global Research & Analysis Team, Europe, for Kaspersky, commented: “Human augmentation is one of the most significant technology trends today. We’re already seeing a wide range of practical applications being deployed across the everyday areas of our lives like health and social care, sport, education and transport.

“Exoskeletons for fire and rescue or the bio-printing of organs are a couple of examples.

“But people are right to be wary. Augmentation enthusiasts are already testing the limits of what’s possible, but we need commonly agreed standards to ensure augmentation reaches its full potential while minimising the risks.”

Kaspersky’s research also found:

  • Adults in Southern Europe, including Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy, along with Morocco, are among the most open to human augmentation
  • Adults in the UK and France appear to be most sceptical about human augmentation, with 36 percent of Brits and 30 percent of French adults against the concept. More than half of adults in France (53 percent) and the UK (52 percent) believe human augmentation will be dangerous for society, way above the study average of 39 percent
  • Being able to an augment a more attractive body appealed to more than a third (36 percent) of women and just a quarter (25 percent) of men, while men are more interested in improving their strength (23 percent) than women (18 percent)
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of those interviewed believe governments should regulate human augmentation. The UK is most in favour of government intervention (77 percent) and Greece is the most resistant (17 percent)
  • A third of people (33 percent) are ‘excited’ by the idea of human augmentation, but women (21 percent) are slightly more likely than men (15 percent) to say they are more concerned than excited by augmentation

Kaspersky launched the findings ahead of hosting a round-table debate hosted by technology journalist Kate Russell, which also included:

  • Zoltan Istvan, Author and Founder of the Transhumanist Party
  • Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford University Professor and Uehiro Chair Practical Ethics
  • David Jacoby, Senior Security Researcher, Global Research & Analysis Team, Kaspersky
  • Marco Preuss, Director of Global Research & Analysis Team for Kaspersky Europe

The title of the debate is ‘The Human Augmentation Debate’. “I think the majority of people are going to be willing to be augmented, as long as it’s baby steps and they see economic and medical benefits for it,” Zoltan Istvan commented.

“Historically, people often don’t like technology innovations at first, but they accept them because they realise that their jobs, and livelihood and national security is at stake.”

For Professor Julian Savulescu, the most important area of human augmentation is psychological – improving our cognitive abilities and moral capacities. “The greatest threat we face is human inequality in capacities for human behaviour, including moral behaviour,” Savulescu warns.

“Human augmentation has the potential to compound existing inequalities, so the challenge for governments worldwide is how to harness the potential of human augmentation for good.”

David Jacoby, Senior Security Researcher at Kaspersky concluded: “Throughout history, bad actors have always exploited new technologies – but generally speaking these technological advancements have been positive for humanity – and I’m certain this will be the case with human augmentation.

“That said, we must remain vigilant about the threat of misuse or attack so that when human augmentation becomes an everyday reality, security is not an afterthought.”

The fieldwork was conducted by Opinium Research between 9-27 July, 2020. Opinium canvassed 14,500 adults in 16 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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