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Oscar Pistorius is more than just a fallen hero
Andy Miah   Feb 16, 2013   Ethical Technology  

It was only a few days ago that the world of sport was talking about nothing but Lance Armstrong. However, the case surrounding Oscar Pistorius dwarfs any kind of doping scandal, past or present.


A lot has been written about how the tragedy will mean the loss of a hero for the sports world and for people with disabilities. But, Pistorius isn’t just any old sporting hero. He is the most important athlete of the 21st Century and this fallen idol will mean that our social world will suffer a little longer from prejudice than it would otherwise have. Unlike most athlete superstars, Pistorius transcended what happens on the field. Debates about him were of significance for society at large.

His capacity to rival the speeds of so-called able-bodied athletes brought into question the use of that term at all and made us believe that a bionic Games that was faster and better than today’s was just around the corner.

In this world, it would be the technologically modified athlete we celebrate and it would be a world where disability no longer mattered. Everybody could compete on a level playing field and sponsors would fund Paralympic sport as much as Olympic. There may even no longer be a division between the two. There would be only one Olympic Games and only the best athletes competing.

This is now all jeopardized by the fact that Oscar was the only Paralympian campaigning to bridge the two Games. No other athletes have made this case and so the issue may simply disappear from the headlines. The IAAF may have an easier time because of these events and the world of sport may generally breathe a silent sigh of relief that there is nobody else pursuing the same campaign.

Just before the London 2012 Olympics, I wrote an article saying that Pistorius would be the most remembered athlete of the entire Games. I think this is even more likely now, but obviously for very different reasons

This is the second most tragic element of the circumstance, after the loss of a human life. An athlete whose entire future was still yet to be written, but which promises so much, seems like it is now etched in stone.

Unless Pistorius finds a way to redeem himself through the trial, then we may never know how much the world has lost by his absence in public life. It wouldn’t be the first time that a celebrity has later found sympathy from the public and managed to recover their place as a role model.

Oscar Pistorius is so young, with so much still ahead of him –  as an athlete, an advocate, and an ambassador – the entire world will be made worse of by this recent, horrific event, if no recovery is possible.

Professor Andy Miah, PhD (@andymiah), is Chair in Science Communication & Digital Media, in the School of Environment & Life Sciences, University of Salford, Manchester. He is also Global Director for the Centre for Policy and Emerging Technologies, Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, USA and Fellow at FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, UK. He is currently part of a European Commission project called Digital Futures 2050 and of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Digital Participation in the Scottish Government.


Blinded by hypocrisy. A woman is dead, three gun shots, one to the head.

I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves (as is most everyone else.)

No doubt this is a tragic story no matter what else happens. But the issue isn’t whether “Pistorius [can find] a way to redeem himself through the trial” but whether a trial will find Pistorius guilty of murder.

It’s a tendency that transcends this particular debate, but people are supposed to be presumed innocent until they are proven guilty in a court of law. As far as I’m concerned, this will be a tragic accident unless he’s found to have committed murder.

Also worth remembering is that while Pistorius was certainly the first to advocate mixing the Paralympics and the Olympics, he won’t be the last. It won’t take much technological progress before Paralympians are posting times equal to or faster than their Olympic counterparts. The IAAF may still choose to hold two contests, but their relative importance and public interest is likely to swap unless the games are merged, and even then hybrids are likely to dominate the sports world.

I’m with John. Although it’s irritating to have yet another high profile fall from grace of an enhancement-associated athlete, this will have little effect on the wider trajectory of enhancement seeping into sports and society. Pistorius’ rise was an effect, not a cause, of this wider trajectory.

It’s obvious that we need tomorrow’s brain technologies. With breakthroughs expected within the next two-to-three decades, an examination of a suspect’s neuron activities could reveal guilt or innocence beyond any doubt, making unnecessary the crude questioning techniques of our human legal system.

In my opinion; with a powerful “OJ”-like legal defense team that the well-financed accused could muster up; justice may not be served in this case. Comments welcome.

@ John, well said!

The hypocrisy is that we so quickly and instantaneously forget who the real victim is? Empathy can be biased?

“Comments welcome.”

Dick, you went right to the heart of it:

“an examination of a suspect’s neuron activities could reveal guilt or innocence beyond any doubt, making unnecessary the crude questioning techniques of our human legal system.”

Saying the technologies may improve. But:

“with a powerful ‘OJ’-like legal defense team that the well-financed accused could muster up; justice may not be served in this case.”

The inference (or an inference) is Johnnie Cochrans and Dream Teams might v. well exist in the distant future; Mark Furmans might continue on in the future; so might corrupt attorneys, judges, juries, court officials, police (and worst of all our hideous recidivist prison system which mocks our title of greatest country in the world). This is why when a 21 year old such as Chris C. expresses doubts about the future, it is best to pay attention. If the past is a guide, someday the world passes to Chris’s generation.
Dick, there can be greater justice in the future
—but not virtue; there’s somewhat of a consensus on justice but virtually none concerning virtue; and if anyone denies such, they are attempting to cover it up. We radically dislocate the world, yet expect it to be virtuous? This is why perhaps the majority of Christians, for example, are not necessarily mistaken, but are certainly gullible. We change our nation, we change the world in a violent manner however millions of Rightist Christians hope we can remain in the Gipper’s America?: Jesus would have to Return for that (and bring Reagan with him). They can live in Christian intentional communities, though the surrounding world eventually intrudes.
I fear the gullible more than the wicked, at least we know where we stand with the wicked. Dick, we can be optimistic without being naive; we have to continually discern what there is to be optimistic about, and what not.






@ Intomorrow,

If we multi-track a future with advancing Nano-Bio-Info-Cognitech technologies and glance at our world of 2050 and beyond where consciousness has been demystified, it is possible to imagine a time when the human mind is no longer capable of causing harm to others.

In this positive future time, governing may well be transferred from human minds to artificial intelligence far more capable of correct decision-making.

Granted, in envisioning this kind of a future, one must draw upon science-fictionesque scenarios, but as many futurists believe, society may see more technological advances during the 21st century, than was experienced since the beginning of Earth life, billions of years ago.

Will the future unfold in this optimistic way? This positive futurist believes it will!

Yes, and anyone who would reject what you write, Dick, wouldn’t want to associate at IEET for any length of time. But we take a stab at separating the fiction from the science, the
F from the S. This will be rambling comment.
First start with what it is people fear most, even more than pain/death—other people.. explains something of why people can be extremely reactive for no observable reason. You must have thought of what it would be like if one group could go to a planet and another to another planet (or artificial worlds, of course): Mark Fuhrmans move to planet X; OJs move to planet Y; Nicole Simpson Browns and Ron Goldmans travel as far away into space as they can (Kato Kaelin stays right where he is).
And you are right to be optimistic if we are on the ball. Reason I obsess with all of this is moving to the Midwest made me aware of just how much men want power- more than freedom; in some cases more than life itself;
My hypothesis is, now that men can’t use violence and possess power as much, they turn more desperately to grasping power—this would seem to be only natural.
Interesting how so-called conservatives praise Goldwater to this day—yet if Goldwater were alive he’d be disappointed with the cluelessness of conservatives. Goldwater said freedom requires eternal vigilance; however in Redstate America particularly, we are told to forgo vigilance and trust authority. Not only do they not bother to hide it, they thumb their noses in pushing power-mad authority figures and would-be authority figures. Naturally, it’s like that everywhere, merely more transparent in some locations.
We want to go with the program, but not if it is a hopeless one (when you have a bad external drive, you disconnect it). I’ve gotten to the point of saying words to the effect of
“can’t stand your outmoded politics and religion, there’s no purpose any longer in attempting to go along to get along.”
Because whatever value it has to them, what does it have to do with transhumanism and space interest?: that is the first question in dealing with it. It isn’t so much in judgment of them or even their core beliefs—but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be sidetraked. Back to Pistorius (you never thought that would happen). What I want is a young person such as Chris C. to give his opinion on this, young people are more open, they aren’t “hardened taxpaying beetles.”

@ Intomorrow,

If today’s “NBIC” technologies suddenly froze and advances ceased, your comments might make sense. However, all of those technologies are predicted to provide breakthrough after breakthrough as we wind through the 21st century.

By mid-century, 2013 humans could evolve to an almost unrecognizable status from today’s humans with minds that far too often make bad decisions.

The big game-changer might be when we unravel the mysteries of consciousness, giving us a better understanding of humanness. With a little luck, this could be accomplished by the 2040s.

This might finally help us answer the question: Who am I; and why am I here?

@ Dick..
you may wrestle with the funda-mental ontological question even now, why wait for science? And if I may take liberty, I suspect you are wrestling with that question, as indeed we all are, and as projected through various modes, Optimism, hope, faith, worship, objectivity and “critique” of such?

Would like to read more on your own thoughts on the mind/body paradox.

You are correct that eventually the Human condition will be unravelled and objectivity will rule the day and aid to correct irrationality and Human psychosis. Some envision “any” loss or temper of passion as detrimental to Humanity and thus dangerous?

@ Intomorrow..
I would say that identity crises lies at the heart of all Human needs and psychosis, especially where status seeking and celebrity are concerned?

Sartre “the Look”

No doubt about it, Cygnus. Dick has pretty much explained it; my error was underestimating SF and purely academic factors, was too reductionist.
Taking it in stride is the obvious way to go. Like, say taking Vlad Frolov’s pieces in stride- now there is wisdom; not wisdom in Vlad’s articles necessarily—but wisdom in taking what Vlad writes in stride.

was sort-of addressing offline people I talk with, not so much you, Dick. One more comment today to limit perseveration.
This still stands:

“... Because whatever value it has to them, what does it have to do with transhumanism and space interest?: that is the first question in dealing with it. It isn’t so much in judgment of them or even their core beliefs—but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be sidetracked…”

Can’t speak for you, but I want to be ‘on the ball’ about this. The 2040s seems a long time from now.

I think we are underestimating the role that synthetic hormones are having in this story.
Pistorius wasn’t just someone with a disability who was overcoming, but was using testosterone to do that.

Now Testosterone makes you very aggressive, both toward life, and toward others. Alpha apes have high testosterone. Beta have a lower one.

The Testosterone Pistorius was taking was surely helping him to overcome his limits. But what if was also a co-culprit of the excess of rage that led him to shot his girlfriend?

As a community who looks with hope toward hormonal therapy we must accept and investigate not just the positive outcome of those therapies, but also their risks.

Only then will we have fully learned from the lesson that Pistorius is, unfortunately, teaching us.

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