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Human enhancement and the future of work

Last week, I attended a joint meeting organised by the Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society on human enhancement and the future of work.

It’s the first time that all four academies have come together like this on a policy issue. Such an interdisciplinary subject proved to be an interesting testing ground that really benefited from bringing together such diverse expertise. Having scientists, clinicians, engineers, philosophers, sociologists, policy makers and ethicists in the room together made for a lively debate on what is a fascinating subject.

Human enhancement has long been debated in general and specifically in relation to sport, from doping scandals to the role of equipment, and I was interested to see how the debate would play out in relation to the world of work.

The enhancements discussed ranged from technologies that are starting to have impact in the near term (such as pharmaceutical cognitive enhancement and nutrition) to those further downstream such as artificial exoskeletons and sensory enhancements. For me, the highlight of the day was the animated discussion that ensued as attendees reflected on the potential implications of enhancement technologies. How should they be regulated in the context of work? Who would pay for them, or decide what becomes available? And is ‘enhancement’ even an appropriate term to use?

A report of the meeting will be published later this year, and will be available on all of the Academies’ websites. In the meantime, further information on the meeting is available here.

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