In Defense of Cyborg Athletes

Aimee Mullins

Howard Schatz via

Much of the debate on the place of advanced prostheses for the disabled in competitive sports often downplays arguably the most important perspective: that of the athletes who couldn't compete without them. In light of the recent MIT research project that found prosthetic limbs offering no advantage over natural legs, sprinter and double Cheetah leg user Aimee Mullins has some even more thought-provoking (and first-hand) analysis of the issue.

Mullins is guest editing Gizmodo's "This Cyborg Life" theme this week, and all of her pieces on the implications of modern cyborg enhancements in sport have been insightful. In her latest, she draws some worthwhile comparisons to other variations in skill or ability that are not only legal, but deemed completely normal in other sporting situations--whether it's Tiger Woods's double Lasik surgery or the complete re-write of competitive swimming's record books in the era of swimsuits like Speedo's LZR. She writes:

Where do we draw this ethical line on performance enhancement? I'm not sure I can answer that right now. What I will say is that I don't think it's useful to have this discussion around the existing Cheetah Leg, confusing the current non-enhanced technology with future prosthetics that will indeed provide augmentation. As with all evolution in sport, let's decide the parameters of competition when the technology actually exists, when we have metrics that inform us as to what extent augmentation is a certainty. Conjecture has no place in this discussion.

If you read PopSci, you know the future of prostheses is becoming more and more unreal--like something out of sci-fi. And it's only going to get more advanced. We're with Aimee--with today's prostheses giving disabled athletes a fair shake at competing with the best of the best on common ground, the world better prepare itself for a cyborg gold medalist. Because it's going to happen.