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Future Humans

The corporate culture issues surrounding the arrival of a new application can be daunting. The ethical dilemmas around RFID can be polarizing. But within the next few decades, CIOs are going to face something that will make such problems seem juvenile - the issues surrounding human enhancement.

A new book, Citizen Cyborg (Basic Books, October 2004), by Dr James Hughes raises serious questions about how society must come to grips with technologies that can improve human senses, intelligence and lifespans. As a result of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, new pharmaceuticals and high-tech implants, CIOs will be faced with quandaries they'd have trouble imagining today.

"Over the next couple of decades IT professionals will help workers integrate computing and communications onto and into their bodies and brains, with wearables and implants," says Hughes. "All the complex boundaries between the private life and work will come into play: Is it OK for an employee to use their company comlink to download VR porn if they pay for it by themselves?"

While such a scenario may sound like science fiction, some issues already exist. Drugs such as Modafinil (which reduces the need for sleep) and Ritalin (which sharpens focus), originally developed to fight illnesses, are reportedly being used by everyone from college students to military pilots as people attempt to push beyond their need for rest and their native concentration skills.

"Some firms will overtly or covertly encourage their workers to use [these drugs]," Hughes says. "Firms and countries that adopt an antidoping policy will be at a competitive disadvantage." And such a situation could make a contentious issue such as offshoring seem mild by comparison.

The key will be how governments, corporations and individuals deal with the issues to make sure that the new technology is safe and available to everyone. "What the transhumanist movement has been about - and what my book is about - is that the human issues are not the real issues," he says. "The safety issues and the issues around equity are the serious issues."

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