People & Human Resources

Two thirds of workers open to “physical and mental augmentations” like microchips, but are there ethical issues?

Dominic Powell /

Floating the concept of physical and mental augmentations like micro-chipping with your workers might not be a conversation many business owners are keen to have, but a recent survey has revealed more employees might be on board with the concept than first thought.

After surveying more than 10,000 people in different workforces across the world, business management and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) discovered 70% of workers would “consider using treatments to enhance their brain and body if this improved employment prospects in the future”.

“Human effort, automation, analytics and innovation combine to push performance in the workplace to its limits; human effort is maximised through sophisticated use of physical and medical enhancement techniques and equipment,” the company said.

“A new breed of elite super-workers emerges.”

These super-workers could be common in the wider workforce by 2030, believes PwC, but some businesses are jumping far ahead of the curve and are beginning to introduce similar enhancements already.

Examples include Swedish software development firm Epicenter and US-based Three Square Market, both of which offered employees the option of inserting small microchips in their hands to help with menial tasks such as opening office doors and purchasing coffees.

Speaking to The Australian, joint global leader of PwC’s people and organisation division, Jon Williams, said implants at work were “­already possible and happening”.

“People will use it socially to pay for things and to get on to buses and public transport. Why would they not 10 years later go, sure, put one in my brain to make me think harder or for longer?” Williams said.

“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’s report did not survey Australian workers and director at wattsnext HR Ben Watts believes the 70% figure is “a bit high” for the Australian employment landscape.

Watts says he can understand why workers would want to augment themselves to enhance employment prospects, but notes he is still on the fence about the ethical issues paired with chipping employees.

“I feel it might be too intrusive from a privacy perspective. We know our mobile phones collect a heap of data on us, a lot more than a microchip, but if I want I can leave my phone at home,” Watts told SmartCompany.

“With microchips, once it’s there, it’s there, and then there’s a question of what data they’re actually collecting.”

“I know that in the future this is where it’s all going, but once it’s in your body, it’s not leaving easily.”

Are augmentations “unnecessary”?

Watts notes he can see the benefits of such augmentation for certain types of workers, like those working remotely or without immediate management, but says he’s still “stumbling” over the ethical side of it.

Motivating employees through enhancements would be attractive admits Watts, but says businesses should strive to drum up engagement through motivation and “getting them part of the business’ journey”. But if businesses are wanting to be cutting edge with what they offer staff, Watts says the best way to get employees on board would be to go for the “Apple approach”.

“If I were selling this to employees I would use the same approach Apple did with the iPhone, entice them into being part of the future,” he says.

“Tell them they can step ahead of the curve and be leaders in this space.”

While such augmentations have potential, Watts believes much of what chips offer can be achieved with other wearable tech, or just through employee’s mobile phones.

“I do think it’s a bit unnecessary at the moment,” he says.

“I chip my dog because it’s not intelligent enough to tell someone my mobile number when it gets lost. Humans are intelligent, so there has to be other ways to manage people without chipping them.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is a journalist at SmartCompany and a tech and music geek. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading or browsing record shops.

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