Olympics will become Paralympics as technology enhances human abilities

Olympics will become Paralympics as technology enhances human abilities

Kolkata, Sep 23 (IANS) With technology increasingly enhancing human abilities, a day will come when Olympics become the Paralympics, envisions scientist Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, the first American of Indian origin to be appointed to the US National Science Board by President Barack Obama.

“You will find the so-called Paralympics could one day be for people who are high achievers and Olympics are for losers. Olympics are not sufficient. If I had legs that were bionic, I would run faster. There will be a day when Olympics will become Paralympics and Paralympics will become Olympics,” Panchanathan said at a keynote address at a conference here on Friday.

“When you are talking of moving people from disability to ability, you can liken it to moving people from ability to super-ability. We all want to be super-able,” he explained.

The computing and informatics expert was speaking at the second IEEE International Conference on Research in Computational Intelligence and Communication Networks (ICRCICN), organised by RCC Institute of Information Technology.

Clarifying that he doesn’t decry Olympics, Panchanathan observed that whule the competition makes people work hard and be more capable and able, “people will work hard at improving technologies to make it more capable and make us more able”.

“When we reach a point where the augmentations in us are going to make us more capable and capabilities are so far ahead that you will say we don’t have a competition around … that is when it will become more exciting than plain old Olympics,” Panchanathan, the Arizona State University’s Senior Vice President of the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, told IANS, when asked to elaborate.

Observing that today one may be sceptical of the transformation, Panchanathan said the possibilities are backed by the fact that the next generation is growing up with technology and also with augmented technology (supplemented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics and the like)

“The next generation is coming up with technology and there will be a generation which will grow up with augmented technologies so they will say this is just boring to look at a person who is running at nine second a mile (when they can do it faster),” the IIT-alumnus elaborated.

He said much of the research in science and technology is focused on humans reaching super ability.

“The human ability is going to be increasingly enhanced through technology whether it is the sensory ability or the perceptual ability … whatever it is … all those abilities are going to become more and more enhanced by technology. So if this becomes the case then at what (point) is it going to become so far ahead of abilities without enhancements that you will start to think of it as a competition with technologies,” he said.

However, he cautioned about the ethical implications and advocated working in an inter-disciplinary manner to ensure introduction of responsible technology.

“Technology is becoming so robust and elegant that if I had a prosthetic leg, if with this prosthetic leg (with technology advancing every three months) you can run faster than I can … would I want to chop off the leg and put on a prosthetic leg? Already we are talking about how Artificial Intelligence can become scary for people. The ethics will be determined by the society in which you live,” he noted.

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