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One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug."

This sentence in Kafka’s most popular story, The Metamorphosis, is one of the early instances traversing the essence of existentialism. Gregor’s body transforms but mentally he remains a human. Is he, therefore, synonymous with only body or also his mind? The Metamorphosis is a glaring sign of the ambivalence Kafka holds for the concept of the body. Biology as humankind’s biggest limitation sets the foundation stone for transhumanism.

Transhumanism is essentially the science of improving the human population through technologies such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence (AI). Humans already exhibit a symbiotic relationship with smart technology but transhumanism tips into a drastic new scale.

According to Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, associate professor of history at the Arizona State University in the US, transhumanism explores different arenas of cybernetics, gene editing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, behavioural sciences and artificial intelligence.

Hugh Herr, a bionic designer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who has led the NeuroEmbodied Design methodology, believes transhumanism “will extend our nervous systems into the synthetic world, and the synthetic world into us, fundamentally changing who we are".

Breaking the mould

There was a whole mature era of DIY cyborgs, where biohackers fiddled with technology to enhance their physiological self. Cybernetics saw some stalwarts emerge and own the field with names like Kevin Warwick, the world’s first cyborg, who, in 1998, implanted a microchip in his left arm to control a remote arm. He also linked his nervous system with the internet to control a robot hand directly from his neural signals.

There are several examples—Jerry Jalava’s USB thumb, Claudia Mitchell’s bionic limb and Jesse Sullivan’s robotic hands, which have all emanated from the need to rise beyond physical disability or revel in new perspective on human augmentation. Such human enhancement technologies under transhumanism have been proven effective when dealing with clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, colour blindness and Parkinson’s disease.

What could be the consequences of transhumanism trickling to everyday life and work?

A futuristic tool like a translator ear-bud could make linguistic barriers dissolve in the global business meetings and make cultural empathy and communication stronger.

Ganesh Chakravarthi, editor at the Takshashila Institution and a researcher of transhumanism, says “Neural augmentations can enable cohesive work practices between humans and robots. Powered exoskeletons can be invaluable in disaster management and recovery. Whole armies can be empowered with enhanced capabilities although their ethics and principles will need to be well-fleshed out."

Setting the right protocol

In 2018, a team of researchers from US’ Cornell University presented a paper, BrainNet: A Multi-Person Brain-to-Brain Interface for Direct Collaboration Between Brains, offering an interface that would allow future colleagues to execute tasks using non-invasive direct brain-to-brain communication. This would mean a whole new definition of a “collaborative workspace", where team members could share not just their views and opinions but their sensory and emotional experience with the network.

With the aid of networked implants, which would only respond to workplace Wi-Fi, humans could compartmentalize work and leisure. Just by setting the right protocol for work and home devices, it would be increasingly possible to switch off “work mode" and decompress.

There are, however, deep worries about the transhumanist turn of the workforce. Corporate demagogues could rise with the consolidation of tech in the hands of the elite, effectively stifling entry of new players in the market. There could be a whole class of jobs only open to those possessing tech augmentations.

New regulations could be mandated around ownership of employee ideas as once they have been synced to the corporate server, no thought would be private to the employee during office hours. Everything could be monitored. New freedoms will have to be debated upon in HR rules like morphological freedom, where individuals have full knowledge and control of which technology to apply to themselves.

Workforce 2.0 will have a gamut of challenges to wade through, to prevent transhumanism from reducing humans to only their qualities of empathy and compassion.

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