LONDON, United Kingdom (Reuters) - Retinal implants to help pilots see at night, stimulant drugs to keep surgeons alert and steady handed, cognitive enhancers to focus the minds of executives for a big speech or presentation.
Medical and scientific advances are bringing human enhancements into work but with them, according to a report by British experts, come not only the potential to help society and boost productivity, but also a range of ethical dilemmas.
"We're not talking science fiction here, we're talking about advances that could impact significantly on the way we work...in the near future," said Genevra Richardson, a professor of law at Kings College London and one of the authors of the report.
The report was published after a joint workshop involving four major British scientific institutions which looked at emerging technologies like cognitive enhancing drugs, bionic limbs and retinal implants that have the potential to change workplaces dramatically in future.
Richardson said while such developments may benefit society in important ways, such as by boosting workforce productivity, their use also had "significant policy implications" to be considered by governments, employers, workers, and trade unions.
"There are a range of technologies in development and in some cases already in use that have the potential to transform our workplaces - for better or for worse," she said.
Human physical and cognitive enhancements are primarily developed with sick or disabled people in mind, as medicines or therapies to help them overcome mental or physical disorders.
But experts say drugs and other forms of enhancement are being used increasingly by healthy people who want to benefit from the boost they can give to performance.
Barbara Sahakian, a professor of clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge University who contributed to the report, said for example that modafinil, a generic drug prescribed for sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, is often used by academics or business leaders travelling to conferences who need to be at the top of their game when delivering a speech. …