Friday, June 8, 2012

Beyond Therapy to Enhancement: The Advent of Super-abled People

Can you imagine a world in which being normal isn't good enough? A world in which anyone with enough money can buy the talents and abilities it would normally take years of hard work and dedication to develop? We may be on the cusp of just such a time. As writer Daniel H. Wilson shows in his article "Bionic Brains and Beyond", science fiction is fast becoming science fact. The concrete reality of human beings not only being restored to proper functioning, but indeed being enhanced to super-human levels is a reality we will have to grapple with in the very near future.  According to Wilson,

The conversation may be jump-started as early as this summer, on the glaring international stage of the Olympics. The poster boy for our superabled future is Oscar Pistorius, an increasingly famous South African sprinter who happens to have had both of his legs amputated below the knee. Using upside down question mark-shaped carbon fiber sprinting prosthetics, called Cheetah blades, Mr. Pistorius can challenge the fastest sprinters in the world. He is currently just one race away from representing South Africa in London.

[AMPED jump1]
Oscar Pistorius at the starting gate.

Mr. Pistorius' "cheetah blades" present a troubling dilemma. On the one hand, Pistorius should be applauded  for overcoming what must've surely been depressing and discouraging adversity to rise to the upper echelons of a physically demanding sport. Yet, sports are about human  excellence. If Pistorius' cheetah blades truly take him beyond the limits of human ability, we have to question what place he has competing among non-enhanced atheletes.

Pistorius and others like him are what Wilson terms the superabled. The superabled are those whose abilities have transcended that which is achievable by human beings. They are, in a sense, superhuman. And in the coming years their numbers may be multiplying and they may be competing with us.

The controversy goes deeper. The possibility that human enhancement will become elective introduces economic and social questions. There is now and always has been a gap between what is available to the rich and what is available to the poor. In some sense, this is just the nature of things. A part of the American experiment is to create a nation where, regardless of where you start, hard work, dedication and skill can transport you farther and higher. This is equality not of outcome but of opportunity.

But consider the challenge to this dream presented by elective human enhancement. If we get to a point where we don't care where your skills come from-be it hard work or, say, genetic manipulation- the poor will be at even more of a disadvantage because the rich will always be able to afford more advanced enhancements. In fact, the poor might not be able to afford them at all. What fate awaits the poor in a world of elective enhancement?

My blog post merely scratches the surface of the questions presented by Mr. Wilson. I  commend his article to you for your consideration: