Body implants in workers could be acceptable by 2030, a leading employment expert has predicted after a new global survey found more than two-thirds of employees would consider receiving brain-enhancing treatments to improve their work performance.
A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers of 10,000 workers across major economies found 70 per cent would consider using treatments to enhance their brain and body if this improved their employment prospects.
Jon Williams, the joint global leader of PWC’s people and organisations division, cited the example of employees at Swedish firm Epicentre who have had microchips injected into their hands to allow them to open doors and operate office technology.
“People use treatments to enhance a whole bunch of stuff in their life, why would the same not be true of work,’’ he said.
“At the moment, I suspect people (who answered the survey) were thinking, ‘I’ll take a drug that will improve my ability to concentrate, or to stay awake for longer, or to perform a manual task more times because it supports my body’. In 10 or 15 years’ time, we may get to implants.”
Mr Williams also cited the case of the Sydney man who had an Opal card chip inserted into his left hand to make catching public transport easier.
“So (implants at work) are already possible and happening and people will use it socially to pay for things and to get on to buses and public transport,’’ he said. “Why would they not 10 years later go, sure, put one in my brain to make me think harder or for longer?
“It’s just natural progression. So things that we think now are out there and science fiction will become relatively accepted in five, 10 years’ time.”
PwC surveyed 10,029 workers in China, Germany, India, Britain, and the US. While Australian workers were not interviewed, Mr Williams said he saw no reason why there would not be a similar level of willingness to consider treatments at work.
“I’d be amazed if that 70 per cent was any different here,’’ he said.
“And it would be interesting if people were more reluctant to do it, what would that mean from a national competitiveness perspective. It’s actually a negative thing. If other companies are doing it, what do you do? Do you opt out or do you opt in? That’s the real challenge.”
The PwC report drew on research started in 2007 and used the survey results to get insights into how people thought the workplace would evolve and how it would affect their employment prospects and future working lives.
Workers, perhaps surprisingly, were largely optimistic about how the future of work would affect them, with 37 per cent excited and another 36 per cent confident. Less than one in five — 18 per cent — were worried about what the future held. Thirty-seven per cent were worried that automation would put their jobs at risk, an increase of four percentage points from a 2014 survey. But 73 per cent said they believed technology could never replace the human mind.
Sixty per cent believed few people would have stable, long-term employment in the future.
Student Kayla Heffernan, who is completing a PhD at the University of Melbourne, is a strong advocate for insertable or “wearable” devices and has been researching public attitudes to microchips for several years.
She has a microchip in either hand; one which lets her into her home and contains her contact details, the other which allows her to get into her office building.
The technological additions have made her everyday life smoother, which she says will become even more noticeable as the technology evolves. “I guess I don’t have to carry keys anymore, it’s low level (change), but it is convenient,” she said. “Our key tags at work are $60 each, I can now never lose mine.”
Ms Heffernan said one of the major roadblocks for the technology was the inability for a single chip to carry out all functions. And if there was the ability to pay for products via a pay-wave mechanism, she says, insert tech would surge in popularity.
“(Microchips) are already increasing year on year, the first person did it in 1998 … since then literally thousands have gotten them,” she said. “Research by Michael & Michael looked at public attitudes and showed there was not a big increase in people saying yes but there was a swing from no to neutral.”
Ms Heffernan had no doubt workplaces would use the technology to augment human capability and performance in the future, but stressed it would be voluntary.
“I think that’s quite far off. Battery issues are the biggest blocker for anything like that,’’ she said.
“I think we are somewhat open to it, but I don’t think we will ever see a day where everyone will get one.’
Source: Ewin Hannan and Simone Fox Koob, August 3, 2017, Worker chip implants ‘only matter of time’, The Australian Business Review, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/technology/worker-chip-implants-only-matter-of-time/news-story/1f9f9317cc84f365410a089566153f51