Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born with a congenital defect, and both of his legs were amputated below the knees at the age of 11 months. In 2007, the "Blade Runner," as Oscar has come to be known, took part in his first international competition for able-bodied athletes. Oscar is a tough guy. He holds the T43 (double amputee below the knee) world record for the 200 and 400-meter distance, and once held the world record for 100 meters.
Pistorious's power comes from “his blades” – his Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon fiber transtibial prostheses, which were developed by biomedical engineer Van Phillips and manufactured by Össur. They look awesome and, quite obviously, Oscar has more than learned to deal with his disability. I have yet to discuss the Blade Runner with anyone who has not been inspired by his remarkable story. It has certainly inspired me.
If you remember, Pistorius became the first double leg amputee to participate in the "regular" Olympics at the 2012 Summer Games. But it was not without controversy. Some thought that his artificial limbs would give him an unfair advantage over fully organic life forms. This was not a new issue. When Oscar started competing with able-bodied athletes, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition rules to ban the use of "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device." The rules had to be changed so that Oscar could participate in the Games of the XXX Olympiad. They were, but it did not matter ... although he posted several personal best times, he was never in contention for a medal. What would have happened if his carbon fiber transtibial prostheses did give him an advantage?
Fast forward to 2025. Endo-digital knee and muscle-wire enhancements are now common. Carbon fiber knees are 100 times more flexible than organic knee joints, and the addition of muscle wire, which increases speed by 10-15 percent and reduces fatigue by an order of magnitude, are common. Old ACL replacement surgery now seems like a waste of time. Why fix an ACL that will still be at risk, when you can replace the whole knee and add synthetic muscle enhancements that will never need maintenance and literally cannot be broken under even the most extreme athletic conditions?
The big question for the NFL in 2025 ... should every player be required to have new endo-digtially enhanced knees? The kit will enable a 6'5," 275 lb. player to run a 3.3 second 40.
Of course, this is nothing compared to the internal heads-up display that the player's endo-digitally enhanced eyes provide. The whole team can access the entire playbook in the cloud and scan a full set of offensive and defensive scenarios during the huddle. At the snap, images from game coverage cameras and sensors built into helmets provide video-game-like capabilities.
Human brains are remarkable devices; it only takes about three weeks to fully adjust to sight and sensory enhancement. New apps are appearing everyday that let you access other information in other locations. Driving in a cloud-enabled public roadway is safer by a factor of 10. A trip to a retail environment or a movie theater is not explicable to a non-endo-digitally enhanced human. In truth, they have very little in common with purely organic life forms.
With the adoption and practical requirement of endo-digital enhancements for players – the path to professional football needs to be chosen by parents while the child is practically in utero. Science, technology, math and engineering students need the enhancements too, but they can wait until third grade.
Of course it's not all fun and games. Endo-digitally enhanced humans are really an interim step toward the evolution of humans into a new species. Having instant access to information in the cloud (simply by thinking about it), hearing sound through bone conduction (so you can also hear ambient sound) and prosthetic enhancements that are mind-controlled by a brainwave to computer interfaces are just the beginning. The next generation won't have a separation between the interface and the technology – we will simply merge with it.
Does this sound like the Borg (from Star Trek)? It does indeed. Does it scare you? I hope not, because nothing is going to stop this.
We could get into an argument about the morality of endo-digitally enhanced humans, but it would be counterproductive. You can imagine stories of tribes of people who shun technology and decide not to participate. It's great fodder for Sci-Fi movies. In a very probable future, they will ultimately devolve into an un-trainable, un-educable, underclass of slaves or pets – none of us can imagine how human/machine-connected brains will work. But, you can imagine some wild outcomes when you merge computers (that do iterative calculations well) sensors (that measure instantly and flawlessly) and human brains (which reason at incredible speed). Put it all together and you get something awesome -- weird, freaky, sci-fi... but awesome.
How long will this take? Ray Kurzweil says it will happen by 2029. Some say 2049, others say by the end of the century. This is a human-accelerated evolutionary process that has already started. First, we started using our handhelds to outsource our fact-finding and way-finding. Next, we'll add some exo-digital enhancements to our sight (like PixelOptics’ electronic focusing eyewear).
We're just a year or two away from endo-digitally lenses that will be surgically implanted to replace our faulty, badly evolved, organic lenses. Add some Wi-Fi capability and heads-up display optics, and things start to get interesting. A few years later, computer-controlled prosthetics will get so good, able-bodied people want them and on, and on, and on until our transformation is complete.
That's the hardware part of the puzzle, next week the economics of living in an endo-digitally enhanced world will be the focus.