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Research Questions

  1. What are some approaches to HPE?
  2. What technical aspects of HPE might be relevant for military and intelligence operations?

Human performance enhancement (HPE) will have implications for military and intelligence operations. A variety of HPE could be of potential military and intelligence operational value. Some examples are increased strength, speed, endurance, and intelligence; others are reduced sleep needs and reaction times. This report provides an examination of three possible modalities for generating HPE: (1) genetic modifications, (2) artificial intelligence (AI), and (3) Internet of Bodies (IoB) approaches in which devices implanted in or worn by a human are connected to a network. For each modality, this report provides an overview of its potential for HPE, the state of the enabling technologies, and the associated challenges (both technical and ethical). The report also features a discussion of the countries where the capabilities or the associated foundational research are being most actively pursued.

Each of these HPE realms relies at some point on digital signals. In addition to any HPE, per se, the emission, storage, and manipulation of this digital information might pose risks and opportunities for military and intelligence operations. Some of the technologies discussed are embryonic, but the pace of development is difficult to predict, and this report provides a snapshot in time of the state of the technology domain.

Key Findings

The three technology categories considered in this report have the potential to be used to enhance human performance, but at different points in time

  • A much-hyped area is gene manipulation, which is the most nascent—research focuses on the potential to alleviate disease, and decades of research will be required before meaningful application to HPE should be expected. That said, some forms of genetic analysis can be helpful in understanding capabilities of people as they are today.
  • AI also has long been associated with hype, and although related technologies are steadily improving, meaningful impacts on cognitive and other prostheses are expected to take five to ten years. These new prostheses will provide new channels of communication, along with associated vulnerabilities.
  • The IoB is already having an effect today; it will become more complex and capable over time. It is becoming both a source of signals and a target for cyberattacks.


  • Understanding when and where breakthroughs or setbacks have occurred—and when and where novel and even surprising applications have emerged—will require monitoring.
  • Relevant program launches or terminations, awards of government grants or contracts, joint ventures and acquisitions, conferences and trade shows, patents, and publications are among the indicators to watch.
  • It will also be important to monitor the kinds of data that are intentionally and unintentionally collected, used, or emitted by HPE-related systems. The benefits of emerging forms of communications will be offset by new kinds of cyber vulnerabilities.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and conducted within the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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