In Tracy Picha’s Future of Your Body Flare magazine article (August 2009) , she finishes her anecdote about the paralympian, Aimee Mullins (mentioned in my posting of July24, 2009), with a discussion of her racing prosthetics which were designed to resemble a cheetah’s hind legs.
And they not only propelled sprinters like Mullins to smoke the competition but they began to make their wearers look like threats to other “able”-bodied athletes.
Picha goes on to mention the controversy over Oscar Pistorius another paralympian who has recently been allowed to compete in the Olympics despite the debate over whether or not his carbon fibre cheetah-shaped racing prosthetics give him an advantage over athletes using their own human legs. If you’re interested in the controversy, you can check it out in this Wired article. Picha’s article is only available in the print version of Flare magazine’s August 2009 issue.
I think the distinctions in the study I mentioned on Friday (July 24, 2009) between restorative/preventive but non-enhancing interventions, therapeutic enhancements, and non-therapeutic enhancements are very useful for understanding the issues. (Note: I mistakenly identified it as a UK study, in fact, it is a European Parliament study titled, Human Enhancement.) The study also makes distinctions between visions for the future and current scientific development, which given the hype surrounding human enhancement is important. The study also takes into account the political and social impacts of these developments. If you’re interested in the 200 page report, it can be downloaded from here. There’s a summary of the study by Michael Berger on Nanowerk Spotlight here.
So, are robots going to become more like people or are people going to fuse themselves with equipment and/or enhance themselves with chemicals (augmenting intelligence mentioned in my June 19, 2009 posting here) or ??? Actually, people have already started fusing themselves with equipment and enhancing their intelligence with chemicals. I guess the real question is: how far are we prepared to go not only with ourselves but with other species too?
You may want to check out Andy Miah’s (professor Andy Miah that is) website for some more thinking on this topic. He specializes in the topic of human enhancement and he follows the Olympics movement closely. His site is here and he has some slide presentations available at Slideshare and most relevant one to this series is: Bioethics and the Olympic Games: Human Enhancement here.
As for nanotechnology’s role in all of this. It is, as Victor Jones noted, an enabling technology. If those cheetah legs aren’t being made with carbon nanostructures of one type or another, they will be. There’s nanotechnology work being done on making the covering for an android more skinlike.
One last thing, I’ve concentrated on people but animals are also being augmented. There was an opinion piece by Geoff Olson (July 24, 2009) in the Vancouver Courier, a community paper, about robotic insects. According to Olson’s research (and I don’t doubt it), scientists are fusing insects with machines so they can be used to sniff out drugs, find survivors after disasters, and perform surveillance.
That’s as much as I care to explore the topic for now. For tomorrow, I swing back to my usual beat.