Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Design Advantage


What happens when design exceeds human capabilities? This is an interesting question about whether a double-amputee with prosthetic lower legs has an advantage over able-bodied runners. These are the kinds of questions that will increasingly face us as the separation between humans and machines continues to blur. (See Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology")

Last week, Oscar Pistorius, a South African Paralympics runner, was granted the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of competing in the Olympics by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), in Lausanne, Switzerland. The court upheld the appeal filed by Pistorius against the decision made on January 14 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that banned the "blade runner" from competing against able-bodied athletes. The CAS ruled that the IAAF did not provide "sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage . . . [or sufficient evidence] that the biomechanical effects of using this particular prosthetic device gives Oscar Pistorius an advantage over other athletes not using the device."

Pistorius is a double amputee who competes on J-shaped, carbon-fiber, Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetics made by the Icelandic company Össur. After Pistorius performed well in an international able-bodied event in 2007, suspicion arose among members of the IAAF that his Cheetah prosthetics may give him an unfair advantage. Immediately, the institution placed a ban on using "technical devices," such as wheels and springs, in competition, and it decided to individually review Pistorius's case.

1 comment:

Mary Alice said...

Cool that someone with a "dis"ability can exceed normal ability becoming a person with "excess" ability (or maybe "accessibility"). Steve Austin will be here soon!

Maybe these enhanced humans will someday have their own Enhanced Olympics where able bodied people are not allowed, but dream of being able to compete.