The Future Of (2022) s01e08 Episode Script


This is
the 2107 Ultra Weightlifting Championship.
Welcome, viewers, to the
2107 Ultra Weightlifting Championship.
This marks the tenth year
that unlimited enhancements
have been permitted.
Our next competitor is upping the ante
and attempting to hoist
a world record 5,000 pounds,
but they've got a lot more
than just muscles on their side.
Yes, you've seen it here first!
A new world record.
Welcome to the future.
A wired world of sports,
where AI, robotics, and bioengineering
elevate our game to amazing new heights.
But with all these enhancements,
we really have to ask ourselves,
are we prepared to turn pro athletes
into something more than human?
As fans, we love to see
our favorite sports stars break records
and push physical limits.
It's all about going to places
where no one's taken their body before.
In the future,
athletes will have powerful new tools
to help keep them injury-free.
If you have a better AI system,
your players aren't getting injured
as much.
And the sports you love
will get a high-tech jolt.
We developed
the largest improvements
in human performance
with exoskeletons to date.
Science will take
the human body
into uncharted territory
with synthetic implants.
We may even draw inspiration
from other species.
New technologies that allow you
to run even harder
and not pull a hamstring,
not rip your body apart.
If I had that,
I sure wouldn't be retired right now.
But not without kicking up controversy.
Is there such a thing as,
like, technological doping?
Are we watching competitions
between athletes and their bodies,
or are we really watching competitions
between scientists,
engineers, and designers?
Get ready, sports fans.
It would be complete chaos,
but in a really watchable
and interesting way.
Let's find out
just how far the human body can go.
The reality is we're going all in.
Few things are more thrilling
than watching our favorite athletes
put on a show.
Just listen to broadcasters
and crowds go wild
at Maradona's goal of the century
in the 1986 World Cup.
The national pride,
the entertainment, the escapism.
Oh, we love it all.
Watching a human being who has
essentially the same meatsack as I do
lift almost 600 pounds
is amazing.
Our sports fascination
drives a $440 billion industry.
The fitness and performance
of the most elite athletes
is higher than ever in history.
Your favorite pros are faster,
stronger, and taller than ever.
If they do get hurt,
they get physical therapy
from machines that look like
something out of Star Trek.
The anti-gravitational treadmill
over there, underwater treadmill
The cryo chambers,
hyperbaric chambers
Hot, cold,
and oxygen-intensive physical therapies
can relieve athletes' pain,
and heal overexertion.
Professional sports as a whole,
I think it's gotten much more scientific.
And yet, despite all this,
injuries remain a formidable adversary.
Aside from the obvious physical trauma,
they can be heartbreaking for athletes.
Frustrating for myself
to not be out there on the pitch.
I was so down and out
and I went through so much.
And for their fans.
When injuries add up,
they can end careers.
Yeah, my body's telling me it's time,
you know, to give in.
one in five competitive athletes
are forced into retirement
by their injuries.
Like Lindsey Vonn, whose storied career
saw 82 World Cup victories
alongside broken bones and torn ligaments.
I've had nine
major surgeries in my career.
It definitely takes a huge toll on you.
The long-term risks eventually
forced Lindsey into early retirement.
I would love to continue to race.
You know, mentally, I'm still just
as competitive as I was before.
There's still
a surprising amount we don't know
about recovering from sports injuries,
which in some cases
can make or break an athlete's career.
I had a spiral fracture of my humerus.
I had nerve damage
when I woke up from surgery.
I couldn't move my hand
and the doctor said to ice.
But my physical therapist
got me in a hot tub,
which is extremely counterintuitive
and everyone thought she was insane,
but actually it helped immensely.
A fundamental decision
that every clinician has to make
when they face an athlete that has injury,
is, "What do we do?"
That is the "art"
of sports medicine right now.
Dr. Sam Ward is part of the
Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance,
a group of sports medicine schools
figuring out the best and quickest ways
to bring your favorite athletes
back from injury.
Helping them break records
instead of bones,
and hyperextend their careers
instead of their ligaments.
So, get ready to spend more years
cheering for your childhood heroes
and less time crying into your beer
over fallen sports stars.
Imagine a world
where the home team
didn't have to bench their star player
because of injuries.
Where Justine Henin
returns from her elbow tears,
Yao Ming bounces back
from his broken feet,
and Michelle Wie shakes off
her wrist and neck problems.
The Human Performance Alliance
believes one powerful new tool
that could keep future athletes healthy
and winning is twinning.
The goal is to create
individualized digital twins
to make precision health decisions
about elite performers.
Let's say your favorite swimmer
tears their shoulder mid-season,
but they've also been rigged
with sensors that collect data
about everything that makes them tick.
That person's sleep cycle,
their movement are all fed
into a computer.
Predictive algorithms
can construct a digital duplicate
of that athlete's body.
Their digital twin could recommend
what they need
to bounce back as quickly as possible,
customized exactly to their body's needs.
Do you need more rest or more training?
More protein or more carbs?
Once the athlete gets back in competition,
their digital twin would stay with them.
With enough number crunching,
it could actually predict
and even prevent an athlete's next injury.
We envision a scenario where
we can measure the right variables
about a professional pitcher
and make a decision about whether or not
they should be done
after a given inning, for example,
or be pulled in the middle of an inning
because of injury potential
in that athlete.
But harvesting
all these players' data
could create problems.
What protections are in place
for the athlete, for their privacy?
And if it's at the pro level,
for protecting them financially as well.
Like, if their contracts
are gonna be dependent
on what a predictive model says,
then, you know,
we need to be confident
in that predictive model.
What if a digital twin shows
an athlete playing poorly next season?
Could that void their contract?
We are already starting to see outputs
from WHOOP wearables,
giving fans a front seat to the
beating hearts of their favorite golfers.
Who does that data belong to
and what can be done with that data?
The leagues actually
own that information.
They say wear a heart-rate monitor,
that's their information that they can use
however they want, which is kind of crazy.
Right now,
players can opt-in to sharing their data
before leagues use it.
But, as data plays
a growing role in athletics,
this could change.
But even if AI can optimize
an athlete's performance,
it still can't make them invincible,
at least not yet.
If you crash into a fence
going 80 miles an hour,
like, you're gonna get hurt,
no matter what.
With whizzing projectiles,
colliding bodies,
and the inevitable force of gravity,
sports are inherently risky.
Up until now, athletes have relied
on helmets, pads, and a bit of luck
to protect themselves while playing.
But in the future, your favorite players
could become way better at dodging
disaster with a mechanized leg up.
At Stanford, Steve Collins's lab
is designing exoskeletons,
wearable robotic systems of motors,
ropes, and sensors
that mimic the human body.
To take over some of the role
of your muscles and bones
in producing the movement of your body.
Exoskeletons are everywhere
in science fiction.
Come on!
But they're increasingly
becoming a reality.
While they're typically used to help
people with limited mobility move better,
they could also save an athlete
from a career-ending injury.
Say you're a skier hurtling
down the slopes at breakneck speed
and you catch an edge.
An exoskeleton could immediately engage
and take up the force
and prevent an instantaneous injury.
And exoskeletons could also
help future athletes play harder
for longer with less wear and tear.
So we've developed
ankle exoskeletons
that increase your walking speed by 40%
or decrease your energy cost walking
by 40%, or running by 25%.
But here's
where it gets tricky.
As exoskeletons evolved
to look less like Robocop
and more like Under Armor,
they could actually work their way
into mainstream sports,
giving competitors a roboticized assist
over the finish line.
But are robo-sports
what fans want to watch?
If we push too far
down the techno-scientific pathway,
we lose the connection
to the historical past
and all of a sudden,
it ends up becoming something different.
Rayvon Fouché is
a former competitive cyclist.
I was pretty decent,
but nowhere near elite cycling level.
Now he's a professor
studying technology and sports.
Sport is about the human narrative.
And all of a sudden if the sport
becomes less about the human narrative
than about what
athletes are wearing on their feet,
wearing on their bodies or the training
they performed, that changes the game.
With each new augmentation,
the debate is,
do we allow this to raise the bar
or do we keep the focus on the body?
Those future skiing exoskeletons
could be banned outright,
like the full-body swimsuits that helped
shatter records before they were outlawed.
Or they could become mandatory,
opening the door
for even more death-defying runs.
What is inspiring
about sporting performance is that
everyone has the same opportunity,
and you don't have to think about whether,
you know, one's playing fairly or not.
I think when things are new,
they're cool.
And we wanna see what they can do.
But if we've had something
that has long been
pegged as something that cheaters do,
we're gonna be uncomfortable with it.
If we, all of a sudden, are able
to replace tendons
with new technologies that allow you
to run even harder
and not pull a hamstring,
not rip your body apart,
we're asking people to rethink
what the human body is.
Elite-level athletics
is always about pushing the limits
of seeing how fast and far you can go.
Fans can expect
to see faster sprints, higher leaps,
and more impressive scores in the future,
more than we ever thought possible.
Instead of today's typical
soccer scores like 2-0,
an average game
could soon see results like 13-10.
Fatigue could become a thing of the past.
But before it happens on the field,
it will happen in the operating room.
There are things that people are doing
that are largely centered around repair,
but could certainly be used to enhance.
Being able to improve
athletes' bodies to a point
where it's better
than it was before, if I had that,
I sure wouldn't be retired right now.
In the future,
we could implant synthetic materials
inside a player's body,
or carbon-fiber tendons
that provide extra strength and stretch.
And we might get other enhancements
from an even more exotic source.
So there's some interesting work
being done
with tendons and muscles
from other animals,
which I find
very interesting and slightly creepy.
In 2015,
a patient in Poland had his ACL
successfully replaced
with one that came from a pig.
This new ACL was strong enough
to support a 400-pound sow.
Animal-implant research
is still in its infancy,
but some scientists believe that one day
we could infuse
an injured linebacker's ankle
with elephant cartilage,
or give a gymnast a springing ACL
made from a kangaroo's tail.
These tissues likely won't come from
the wild or even animals in captivity.
It's possible that
they will be grown in a lab,
just like your future cheeseburger.
But with all these upgrades,
sports regulators will face
tough decisions
about whether we should integrate
augmented athletes into competition.
Like, should an injured player
who gets a superior knee
be allowed to face unmodified competitors?
Or if a sidelined pitcher
can get a bionic arm,
should a healthy player
be allowed to have one too?
Maybe the solution is
to fully embrace enhanced athletes
and build entire leagues around them,
like that ultra weightlifter from before.
There's a world in which
you have the kind of "natural athletes"
competing against each other.
And then you have a league where you have
as much bionic engineering as possible.
It's like, "Oh, you want cyborg?"
"Go see cyborg."
High-tech leagues
could connect athletes who today
compete in the Paralympics
to a much larger audience.
Because they have
these enhancements,
and if they're in this other league
and are able to show off their skills,
you could have a new kind
of superstar athlete
that actually doesn't look
like a Michael Phelps.
And as we continue
pushing the rules for new tech,
we'll eventually end up with new sports,
like maybe underwater marathons,
or jetpack races
through aerial obstacle courses.
We didn't have basketball
before we had rubber balls.
We didn't have hockey before ice skates.
It's likely that we end up with new sports
that are really built around
these technologies in ways
that we can't quite conceive of yet.
As a fan in the far future,
you'll have thrilling new events
and athletes to root for.
But one big concern with pushing
players to go full Ironman
is that we're asking them
to assume a lot of risk.
I think that this is a very real problem
with athletics today,
which is that we are asking people
to put their bodies on the line
for our entertainment.
Are we gonna just be wildly
experimenting on things that we think
could give people a boost
and that could be dangerous?
And if we use technology
to optimize and stretch athletes
to the extreme,
we might rob sports
of their essential human struggles.
What makes sports inspiring
is the fight,
is the grit, is, you know,
overcoming adversity.
And the more
we keep cranking up the technology,
I think we're losing
an element of humanity,
and the beauty and elegance of sport.
But as fans,
we can't help but cheer
for today's heroes
to be better than yesterday's.
And as our excitement pushes
athletic bodies to be spectacular
and controversial,
and achieve new heights,
this new vision of humanity
feels kind of inevitable.
I think the idea
of pushing world records
and pushing the limits
of athletic performance
are going to be really potent
and really powerful.
I think it's going to be too seductive
for our society to pass it by.
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