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SAS Delphi results – Symbiotic Autonomous Systems

The convergence of Machine and Human Augmentation leading to a symbioses. Credit: IEEE FDC

Area 9 – Symbiotic Autonomous Systems

The symbioses of life forms and artefacts, human and machines looks like the inevitable evolution, made possible by technology advances, by economic drive and by the increase of wellbeing through augmentation. The separation between ourselves and our artifacts is getting fuzzier as artifacts achieve our level of intelligence and become an integral, seamless, part of our life, in some instances entering our own body.

Q 9.1

When will human augmentation move from making up for disabilities to augment personal capabilities?

The experts forecast is evenly spread from 2030 to 2050 and beyond.

Q 9.2

What are the areas where augmentation is most likely to occur: e.g. business (surgery, manufacturing, design), sports (increased performances, resilience), military (heightened senses, resilience, sharper mind, speed of responses), education (laboratories, experiential learning), and creativity (design options, design implementations, design cost)?

Most experts foresee augmentation happening in all areas, first in niches within each area and then progressively expanding. A few are pointing out that the military area will have and keep the lead in human augmentation, in its various forms.

  • 2020 military, sport and business,
  • 2030 extend to sports and education,
  • 2040 extends to creativity

Q 9.3

What will be the social acceptance of augmented humans?

Although a few experts foresee some sort of societal rejection or at least suspicion with regards to human augmentation, most point out that there will be changes in societal “feelings” eventually leading towards accepting it, and in some cases even encouraging it.

A parallel may be seen considering vaccination, a sort of human augmentation providing increased resistance to microbes. This has moved through the stages of suspicion, to become accepted and even enforced, although a few are still looking at it with suspicions.

Human augmentation will take different forms, and will result in different human changes. Each of these is likely to go through a process of rejection, suspicion, limited acceptance, mass acceptance, enforcement. Of course, not all augmentation will be following this evolution with quite a few only moving the first step(s).

Human augmentation will likely be perceived as a form of cheating in sports, unfair competition in business but it will be accepted in health care related areas. Perception will change over time as augmentation will become more common. Visible augmentation, through a device will likely be considered more acceptable than invisible one (like DNA engineering).

Augmentation acceptance most likely to start in tech hubs, but possibly not traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley. It can be expected to gain more traction in less stringently regulated environments first e.g. parts of Asia.

Q 9.4

Will augmented humans become an elite, a niche, or a norm?

The majority of experts foresee human augmentation, within the SAS Initiative timeframe, as applying to an elite, only a minority of experts foresee human augmentation as becoming the norm. Here the point is not to discuss single aspects of human augmentation, rather the overall concept.

The evolution will be first niches, then elite then norm. However this will happen in several areas at different times so in an area augmentation may be restricted to a niche, in another it might have progressed to adoption by an elite and so on.

Q 9.5

Are machines likely to benefit from symbioses with humans or the benefit is only on the human side?

A slight majority foresees benefits for both humans and machines whilst a minority consider human augmentation as beneficial to humans only. In general it is felt that most benefit will be on the human side and in the long term it will only be on the human side.

Q 9.6

What economic issues are likely to result from symbioses of humans and machines?

About half of the experts acknowledge that there will be significant consequences from an economic point of view (including obviously impacts on jobs) and that most of these consequences are not clear at all today. The other half is pointing at increased productivity in most areas as the major economic impact, whilst a few identify the issue of increasing inequality due to the uneven adoption of augmentation.

Different Countries might experience different rate of adoption (and quality of adoption) and this may lead to both unfair competition and to societal issues when an augmentation will start to be “required” or even “forced”.

Symbioses will not be uniform and it will provide an advantage creating a gap between those who can have it and those who don’t. Disparity across Countries may lead to significant economic issues. The pervasiveness of robots in Industry 4.0 and their growing symbioses with humans will be an element.

Q 9.7

Will augmentation become a basic human right?

The majority of experts does not foresee human augmentation as a human right, although a small minority foresees that in the long run, 2050, some forms of augmentation may be considered as part of the human rights (as vaccination is considered in some Countries as a human right).

Q 9.8

What ethical issues are foreseeable in Symbiotic Autonomous Systems?

Although the general consensus is that several ethical issues are already clear the experts foresee that most ethical issues related to human augmentation are still to be discovered and most of them will be specific to a specific form of augmentation, rather than general.

Some emerging ethical issues:

  • Further differentiation between poor and rich
  • Political misuse
  • Criminal misuse
  • What happens to the symbiotic system when the host dies? What if the system is self-aware?
  • When is it okay to modify someone without their consent?
  • If symbiotic systems become commonplace, do parents have the right to add one to their child?
  • What about to a grandparent with dementia or other cognitive impairment?
  • Whether machines will overtake humanity and whether they can overtake individuals and who is responsible for machine errors
  • SAS availability based on ability to pay
  • Manufacturing errors or intentional shortcuts
  • Neural hacking

Q 9.9

AI is already replacing paralegals in several US and UK law firms. Will this trend increase to the point where AI supplants lawyers and legal decisions affecting humans, digital twins and Symbiotic Autonomous Systems be made by AI rather than humans?

The experts split with a slight majority foreseeing AI to take over, whilst a slight minority foresee humans in control during the SAS Initiative timeframe.

Q 9.10

Following on 9.9, if this trend does take place, would it be beneficial or detrimental?

A slight minority, roughly corresponding to those that are foreseeing human in control, points to mixed advantages and disadvantages, whilst a slight minority consider this evolution as beneficial.


  • Beneficial for law firms; detrimental for lawyers
  • Legal decisions by AGI may or may not be similar to human decisions, depending on its ability to incorporate human qualities such as theory of mind, native understanding of human behaviour, and context
  • Many lawyers are subject to their emotions and forgetful of prior experience. Some are also lazy about researching existing material. A system that automatically knows all available data, optimizes for clearly defined criteria and charges less than $500 and hour would be excellent. (Although it could charge $1,000/hr since you would only need a few minutes of its time).
  • Bad for those displaced, but providing new value to consumers of services.
  • It will be detrimental as the limitations are encountered (due to the impacts they have), and it will be beneficial once used within the understood limits.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.