Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Future is Now. Again.

A South African amputee came in second in a 400m race in Italy. He's got these curved carbon fiber springs instead of feet and lower legs. The International Association of Athletics Federations is seriously asking if these prosthetics give him an "unfair advantage".

My initial feeling was to be appalled that the IAAF was going to discriminate against their legless man, but I guess then my critical faculties kicked in because I realized that these curved carbon fiber blades were cybernetic enhancements. And even if these particular prosthetics weren't an "unfair advantage", it was only a matter of time, and probably a brief period of time at that, before some prosthetic was invented that was so great that the person who had it would simply be unbeatable by people without similar or superior enhancements.

So, the future is here. Again. An international sports body is legitimately considering the possibility that a prosthetic limb is inherently superior to flesh and blood limbs.

I mean, for the sake of my own curiosity, I hope they do rule that the runner can keep racing. I'm curious when it'll come to pass that ambitious athletes are willing to, say, voluntarily cut off their own legs below the knees to have these techno-feet. I know the curiosity is deeply morbid, but the curiosity is still there. I feel that it is inevitable that people will start to replace their body parts with superior technological models, but as far as I know this is the first time that has practically occurred, that people have actually said that a prosthetic is possibly better than a normal working limb.

Friends and enemies out there, our lives are soon going to get increasingly weird. No cyberpunk novelist has done much to prepare us for the inevitability of the deeply disturbing future shock that is very much right around the corner. What it is to be human is really breaking down, and not in some abstract, but in the immediate present.


divabeq said...

I heard about this, too. As well as a dancer who had both her legs below the knee and her fingers amputated, and now does modern dance pieces wearing, for instance, queen anne table legs. I've seen pictures and it's really... bizarrely lovely.

But, I thought the same thing about when the time would come that athletes would want to voluntarily undergo these amputations in order to improve their performance. My thoughts were: whenever it becomes profitable to do so. For instance, when the artificial legs/feet can be used better than human legs or feet in professional football, basketball or soccer.

Chris Bradley said...

I suspect that most athletes have a strong enough body image that they'd be extremely hesitant to undergo voluntary mutilation to excel in sports, at least initially. It won't be until athletes with prosthetics start to break records that anyone will even think about voluntary mutilation in order to have prosthetic limbs (and at that juncture it will still largely be mutilation because I suspect that making these limbs look realistic will take a while, not to mention all the non-sports functions they probably won't have, like nerve endings). But I also think that by then in most sports there will be rulings to prevent that sort of thing, tho' I think that with enough time people will overcome the horror of it.

Lord Straf-Bilderberg said...

It's a very interesting question of robotic assistance. Are androids the way to go?

Chris Bradley said...

The way to go what? ;)

Honestly, I suspect that when people get away from the concept that their bodies are not "why they are", and move into mechanical forms we'll all end up being some kind of computer intelligences, and we'll eventually be moving into and out of physical bodies as needed for things that we want to do.

In the shorter term, well, the simple answer is "yes" that android bodies will be the way to go, but that's . . . hard to say, y'know? It depends on the development of the technology. If in fifty years they can make prosthetics that are both as beautiful and completely functional as human limbs, yes. If they can't make them fully as functional (tactile sensations, for instance), then probably not as much of it except for people who want to have robo-legs or whatever. And most people will simply refuse to have limbs that are ugly . . . but the time may come when most people find a well designed prosthetic more attractive than a flesh and blood limb, even if it is not human in appearance.

Like I said, it's probably gonna get weird.

MJW said...

The arguments for and against Oscar Pistorius competing in able bodied competition are clouded by emotive thinking on either side. They need to do some genuine scientific research to see if his prosthetics do give him an advantage because simple observations seem to suggest that whilst he's a slow started because of them, he also suffers less fatigue because of them than an able bodied runner would,

L>T said...

UH OK...
guess what? I finally got that course on Near Eastern Ancient History I was working towards. Are you ready to pick up our debate, on Nietzsche & the Jews?

Chris Bradley said...


LOL. Well, any time you are. ;)

Chris Bradley said...


Oh, yeah, the whole issue is going to be clouded by emotions! Like I said, my initial reaction was entirely gut level. I was, like, "That's horrible, denying a legless man the opportunity to compete!" But then I thought again and realized that, well, they might have a point.

I'm not knowledgeable enough to say, one way or the other, whether the carbon fiber springs are "better" than human legs. My point was that they might be, and before too long they almost certainly will be.

(I also think that the carbon fiber springs take advantage of gravity in a way that human legs can't. They have a kind of springiness that human legs don't have that helps to convert literally gravity into forward motion. But it is outside of my field, hehe.)