Monday, March 23, 2009

Disabled or super-abled?

We live in a fascinating time. Its easy to loose track of the breathtaking advances we as a species are making in technology in the mundane affairs of day-to-day life.

Tools have played a critical role in enabling humans scale greater and greater heights over the ages; from the ability to make impressions on stone, the ability to carve materials into useful objects, the ability to disseminate information through books, making cars and ships and shuttles to make traveling great distances possible, curing and healing our bodies to reduce suffering to making long distance communication cheap and pervasive, the depth and breadth of our achievement as a species is truly awe-inspiring.

We stand at a unique point in our history in that the most likely next evolutionary leap for our species might not be made by natural selection but by our own collective intelligence. The appearance of the first transhuman might not happen in our lifetimes, but I am optimistic that it won't take a very long time either. The possibility of going beyond your limitations and of even defying life and death itself makes you wonder what being human is all about.

What triggered this train of thought was something much more humble and mundane in comparison: prosthetic legs.

Aimee Mullins is an athlete, actress and fashion model whose legs had to be amputated when she was just a year old. Her story is one of courage, strength and the promise of human potential. Her talk at this year's TED made me look at prosthetic legs in an entirely different light: not as mere aids for a disability, but as potentially beautiful tools that push the boundaries of what is possible.

Prosthetic legs are a far cry from the futuristic vision of post-humanity I was thinking about, but they do serve as a simple, tangible example that clearly feels as part of the self. They serve as a stimulus to the mind for dreaming what the future might hold.

I wouldn't be lying if I said that I had thoughts of amputating my legs and having them replaced by super-cool even more powerful ones several times during the presentation.

Have fun watching.

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