THE BLOG

Is It Time for a Transhumanist Olympics?

Oct 10, 2013 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Oracle Team USA made a historic comeback to beat Emirates Team New Zealand in the American's Cup in San Francisco last month. I have closely followed the sport of sail racing for over 30 years, and what astonishes me is how much faster and better the boats are today than they were three decades ago. Sailing speeds and performances have doubled in some cases.

The same cannot be said about most other major sports. Even Michael Phelps, considered by many the greatest living athlete, is only a few seconds faster than swimming world records set 30 years ago. Most sports have not allowed scientific improvements or technology upgrades to their athletes and the equipment they use. I find that disappointing.

What is on the rise in athletics, however, are multi-million dollar campaigns and testing measures designed to ensure athletes don't cheat by using performance enhancing drugs and technologies. Some athletes even complain about undergoing TSA-like testing procedures right before their events. Does anyone else see a problem with that? Does anyone else see something anti-progressive about the state of our competitive sporting industry today?

As an advanced society full of technological wonders, perhaps it's time we consider upgrading our idea of sports and rethinking what constitutes an exemplary athlete. Perhaps it's time for something more modern and exciting, such as the transhuman athlete.

Transhumanism is a broad term that means beyond human. The word often incorporates many different ideas, including those of radical life extension science, genetic engineering, bionics, and anything else that makes the human being more advanced than our everyday 21st Century Homo sapiens.

In the last 50 years, science and technology have brought our society into a new age. Whether it's the internet, space travel, or the harnessing of nuclear energy, the world is a very different place than when the first modern-day Olympics took place in 1896 in Greece.

Rather than change traditional sporting events, which holds a special place in many of our hearts, why not add a whole new category to them? For a moment, imagine a transhumanist Olympic Games: a place for athletes in the 21st Century who have modified themselves with drugs, technologies, and bionic enhancements. A place where the best human potential combines with the most advanced science to create the coolest competitions possible. Who wouldn't be thrilled to be at an Olympics where humans can pole vault over 25 meters? Or peddle a bicycle 100 miles per hour? Or powerlift a ton.

"Multiple medical and surgical technologies already exist to improve physical performance," says Dr. Joseph N. Carey, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. "These technologies can be used to maximize, or even supercharge human abilities. The question is: Will society ever begin to think implementing such actions is a good thing?"

Some might call scientifically enhanced athletes mutants. Many futurists, scientists, and technologists, however, would call them inspirational heroes, leading the way forward to discover how far the human body can be made to perform. Instead of developing a culture of paranoia at athletes using illegal technologies and performance enhancing drugs, why not develop a culture where athleticism can be combined with the most advanced science on the planet? Let coaches get advanced degrees in biology, chemistry, and medicine. Let entire new industries emerge which are dedicated to improving athletic performance via the latest tech. Let a whole new genre of sporting events develop. Let a new category of athletes become the very best in their sports that they can become.

We've never limited the car, plane, or boat from performing as mightily as it could. Why should we limit the human body? I don't approve of Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, and Mark McGwire for lying to us, but I do applaud them for attempting to be better at their sports via outside resources.

Many will say performance enhancing drugs and technologies are dangerous and will shorten competitive athletes' life spans. That may be true, but who are we to make that decision for them? For some, the passion of their sport and the glory of their performance are the most important things in life to them. Should we really have a say in how far they want to take their passion for the game?

Of course, such a transition to transhumanist sports would need to be regulated. Persons under a minimum age, such as 18 years-old, should not be allowed to engage in major body modifications for athleticism. Nor should the casual athlete use known dangerous drugs as as way to enhance their play. Yet, as an advanced scientific-minded civilization, it makes sense to encourage a select group of super-athletes to inspire us with their unnatural strength, speed, and performances.

There's something else to be benefited from pursuing the emergence of transhumanist sports. Athletes would explore new technologies and drugs for the benefit of us all. Such a multi-billion dollar field as competitive sports could lead to new discoveries in the medical sciences. These transhumanist competitors could become our fire-bearers--our Prometheuses carrying the torch from Mount Olympus.

Our civilization has reached its impressive dominion over the planet because of our ability to innovate and embrace new science and technologies. We shouldn't shrug from the use of our innovation on ourselves. We especially shouldn't shrug from the use of 21st Century science and technology on a select group of our very best athletes who we follow and admire.