In the digital era, ‘human augmentation’ has taken on a whole new dimension. Sci-fi movies such as Terminator, Universal Soldier or RoboCop, might conjure up images of a part-organic, part-cyborg future, but what is the reality?
Kaspersky has been exploring the huge potential of human augmentation to make a positive contribution to our collective future, while also evaluating the challenges that humanity may encounter on that journey. This is because, to enjoy the fruits of human augmentation fully, devices will require robust security.
To gain a sense of how people across Europe and North Africa perceive human augmentation, Kaspersky partnered with research group Opinium to interview more than 14,000 people in 16 countries.
What emerges is a complex study that reveals widely contrasting views on what people would enhance, which elements augmentation should be allowed to improve, ethics, security, and government involvement in the form of future regulation.
For instance, the findings revealed that Italians are the most willing to take the human augmentation into account (81%), while Britons are the less willing.
Some respondents have even voiced the desire to connect their smartphones to their body.
The study finds that, while the vast majority of people would like to improve a physical aspect of their person, far less are open to actually doing it. 92% of people would change a physical aspect of themselves if they could.
Countries in southern Europe – such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, are far more open to the potential of human augmentation than many of their northern neighbours.
81% of Italians would consider human augmentation, 18% above the survey average.
The people in the Iberian nations of Spain and Portugal are the most open to the prospect of human augmentation, with 60% of each country believing it is acceptable. Just nine percent of Spaniards are against the idea, compared to 36% of Britons and 30% of French adults.
Everywhere without exception, those who agree with human augmentation place overall physical health as their priority and cite augmentation’s potential to improve life as the key reason to support it.
63% would consider augmenting our bodies with technology to improve them – either permanently or temporarily.
53% of those in favour of augmentation believe it will improve quality of life and 40% would use augmentation to improve their overall physical health.
69% fear human augmentation will be accessible only to the rich. 88% worry their augmented bodies could be hacked by cybercriminals. 39% of people think human augmentation will be dangerous for society.
Nearly half of men (48%) believe it is ‘completely’ or ‘mostly’ acceptable for humans to augment their bodies using technology, compared to 38% of women.
Of those who say augmentation is acceptable, women (44%) are more likely than men (35%) to say that people should choose to improve their bodies however they like.
For Professor Julian Savulescu from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University, humans are already honed for technological augmentation, thanks to our interaction with mobile devices:
“With human augmentation, we’ll need a few pioneers and some success stories,” he explains. “Once it’s proven to work, people will vote with their feet.”
46% of the Romanian respondents believe that human augmentation is acceptable.
In Romania, the main reasons for which people would be willing to accept the human augmentation are related to improving the general health condition (61%), improving eyesight (37%) or improving the intellectual capacity (35%).
Overall, 72% of the Romanian respondents would consider human augmentation, with the issues raised by this depending on price, and the possibility of hacking tools that enable augmentation, in the Romanians’ view.
Italians are the most open to human augmentation with more than eight in ten (81%) open to the idea. Hungarians (76%) and Moroccans (75%) are also highly supportive of human augmentation.
Greece is something of an outlier. Greeks are much more likely to believe in human augmentation because it could improve the quality of life (67% compared to the average of 53%). While being the most concerned (96%) of all countries about criminal or hacker activity, people in Greece are also the most opposed to government regulation.
For one of Europe’s most technically advanced and wealthiest countries, the UK is perhaps surprisingly hesitant about human augmentation. Just one third (33%) of Britons would be open to human augmentation – the lowest of countries surveyed. A third (34%) of people in the UK believe human augmentation is ‘unacceptable’, more than three times the ratio of Spain, the most open country.
Across all countries, being able to improve overall physical health is the first choice, but in the UK having a more attractive body was second choice by just one percent. Similarly, having a better body was second choice in France by just two percentiles. Being able to have a better body was also the second choice in Belgium and Greece.
France, like its neighbour in the UK, appears not to be overly enthusiastic about human augmentation. For those in France who believe human augmentation is acceptable, just 39% say it would improve the quality of life, well below the survey average of 53%.
While we have seen that Italians are very open to human augmentation, more than half (52%) on adults in Italy think that is could be dangerous for society and this might help explain why Italians are far more open to government regulation of human augmentation (72%) than the survey average (47%).
Moroccans are the most optimistic (49%) for human augmentation’s potential to level the playing field and encourage equality, while Brits (19%) and the Swiss (20%) are the least optimistic. Moroccans are also most likely to believe that human augmentation will make it easier for humans to express themselves creatively (58%), compared to just 18% of UK adults.
The study was conducted by Opinium Research during July 9-27 this year , surveying 14,500 adults from 16 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and UK.