Director / Founder - AI Ethics Lab
Bioéthique, éthique, Philosophie
Performance Arts and Professional Sports: Where is the moral limit?Developments in personalized medicine, genomics, and robotics are opening up new and unique ways to push the boundaries in professional sports and performance arts. In ballet, for example, there already exist surgical enhancements that allow the dancer to perform better. Further technological developments in robotics could help dancers take their performance to a new level through exoskeletons or even artificial limbs. In parallel to that, personalized treatments could enhance their performance or reduce the obstacles such as pain or lack of stamina. On what basis should we judge the morality of these enhancements? This question is particularly interesting when we consider the questionable morality of the existing practice of competitive performance arts and professional sports.
Professional ballet carries high risk of injuries which result in long-term physical harm and mental disorders such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, addiction, and eating disorders. These health risks start from a very young age, raising issues not only with regards to well-being but also to autonomy. However, the beauty of the art often conceals these harms so well that ballet injuries, unlike injuries in professional sports, are rarely discussed in public or in medicine. While I use ballet as my running example, my arguments are mostly applicable to professional sports. Professional athletes in cycling, track, gymnastics, and American football are also both physically harmed by the sport and constantly tempted by enhancements that fall on the thin line between doping and legitimate training. The main question of this project is how should we evaluate the use of technological enhancements in high-risk performance arts. On what grounds should new technologies and enhancements be categorized as legitimate and which technologies should be left out of the realm of arts (and sports)? In particular, are such high risk performance arts and professional sports unacceptable in today’s moral framework, similar to other practices that were once considered normal but are abhorrent today such as foot-binding, gladiator games, and castrati.
My working hypothesis is that the supposed social and personal benefits of practices like professional ballet do not justify the physical and psychological harm. For that reason, we should construct a new moral framework to judge the existing practice as well as the novel additions to it. This framework would focus on individual decision-making and risk taking as well as social values, rather than trying to define “wrong practices” as what falls outside of the constructed rules of the “game”. This proposed framework would likely result in a drastic change in the art form both by restricting the current practice and by allowing enhancements to be a part of the practice under specific conditions.