Human Enhancement in the Workplace: Is Too Fast Too Far?
By Vijay Dandapani
Wednesday, 14th November 2012
The UKs Royal Society, an autonomous body of some of the world's most distinguished scientists from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine has just published an intriguing and thought provoking report entitled 'Human enhancement and the future of work'.

The report explores a range of issues many of which have already had a (negative) impact on the workplace with 'enhancements' paving the way for outcomes that are potentially more adverse than favorable.

The report cites a growing trend in humanity which is "moving from a model of therapy to one in which human capacities are greatly improved."  he report expressed concerns about drugs and digital technologies that will allow people to work harder, longer, and smarter. The resulting implications to work and human values, they argue, may not necessarily be a good thing according to the researchers.

Among the more startling key "messages" from the workshop that produced the report was a suggestion that enhancement technologies will change the way people work over the next decade. The "widespread use of  enhancements might influence an individual's ability to learn or perform tasks and perhaps even to enter a profession; influence motivation; enable people to work in more extreme conditions or into old age, reduce work-related illness; or facilitate earlier return to work after illness."

Many of the foregoing "enhancements" are likely to be viewed as a net good in today's context but not so per the researchers. They point to pressures that are likely to develop both on the part of employers and and employees to reach higher and potentially debilitating levels of efficiency as a consequence of these enhancements not least of them being a compulsion to use these enhancers for career advancement.

The risks include "forcing" pilots to work longer hours as a consequence of their heightened ability to function at "full capacity" for longer periods. That has spread alarm at a more down to earth level as truck drivers could be expected to haul vehicles over longer periods and shifts in hospitals and hotels being broken into two per day instead of three that is the norm for a normal human.

As one critic, a bioethicist, rightly noted,  "the use of such drugs might focus on worker productivity over personal well-being. "Being more alert for longer doesn't mean that you'll be less stressed by the job, It means that you'll be exposed to that stress for longer and be more awake while doing it."

The Royal Society report does seek to allay many of these fears as it calls for an interdisciplinary approach that leads to policies that are implemented after a fully informed dialog has taken place. Such a balanced approach is likely to realize the many positives flowing to the workplace from these revolutionary enhancements.

Vijay is Chief Operating Officer and part-founder of Apple Core Hotels- a chain of 5 midtown Manhattan hotels offering value and comfort in the heart of the city. Member of the board of Directors - Hotel Association of New York.

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