Monday, January 14, 2008

Legal Dispute of a New Age

I am a transhumanist. I believe that the future of our race is augmentation via science. I watch for news articles that discuss emerging technologies that could be readily used to augment people, and also for any discussions of philosophical for moral issues relating to the transhumanism movement. Today I found this one.

This man has no biological legs. He does however, have artificial ones. He uses them for running. He runs really fast with them, so fast that he has competed in the Paralympics. Now he wants to compete in the Olympics alongside people with two human legs. The Olympic committee recently ruled that he can't compete because his legs give him an unfair advantage over competitors with human legs. He uses less energy to run the same speed as someone with human legs, because his mechanical legs are more efficient.

Here we have a man that is considered "physically disabled" in our society, that suddenly can't compete in the world's premier physical competition because he has an "unfair advantage."

Let's say he was allowed to compete, and that he did really well. Would someone consider cutting of their legs to have them replaced by artificial legs? These legs are still quite primitive, with their advantages based purely on material properties (ie, no robotics involved). They don't supply any feeling to the body, so deciding to cut off your legs is a stretch for most people. But what if they were robotic, and allowed you to have all the same physical sensations as "biological" legs? Then it is much less of a stretch for some people.

This ruling by the Olympic committee is a first step. It says "you must be THIS human to compete." More specifically it says, "you can be augmented, but only if your augment is itself a handicap."

Transhumanism is about gaining things. You gain extra senses or abilities. Augmentation aims to match biological capability, then surpass it. Currently, mechanical legs aren't "better", they are just more efficient at running. But there will come a time when they are better, in every way except one: they will not be natural. That one difference is what will determine if you are a transhumanist or not. Whether you accept it or not, there are a lot more transhumanists than not, and there will come a day when "pure human" is a minority.

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