The Transhuman Olympics

Every time word gets out of another athlete on steroids, there is a huge uproar. How could they be such cowards? How could they disrespect the spirit of honorable competition? How could they cheat like that? Inevitably, there’s talk of tightening rules, of increasing screening, of rooting out and punishing those who would seek some unfair advantage over their colleagues.

But that’s the Twentieth-Century talking: if you don’t like it, ban it. Wouldn’t a more sophisticated approach try to get at the psychology of cheating, rather than wage an endless, escalating war against it? What if there were a way to allow the use of performance-enhancing drugs and devices — without impinging on the purity of traditional sports?

It is from such thoughts that the idea of the Transhuman Olympics arises. The Transhuman Olympics (T.O.) would lift the restrictions on mechanical, pharmaceutical, and biological augmentations to performance. Within the limits described below, athletes would be free to use a range of means to enhance their natural abilities. Not only would this remove some of the incentive for athletes in traditional sports to engage in doping, it would create a whole new category of human excellence.


The T.O. would not be a free-for-all. Just like the regular Olympics, there would be specific sports and categories, each with its own regulations. Most events would probably encourage and allow only specific augmentations — steroids, stimulants, nanotechnology, perhaps in specific parts of the body. Compound sports like a decathlon might allow several enhancements. And there could even be a place where different augmentations could be pitted against one another (say, strength versus speed).

Certain rules would apply to the application of these techniques:

  1. Any augmentation must be declared.
  2. Any augmentation would be performed with medical consultation and supervision.
  3. Augmentation would have to be certified by a governing body. This body would produce standards which would guide athletes and their medical supervisors in the development of an augmented physique.
  4. No augmentation would be allowed which posed a risk to other athletes, staff or spectators, beyond the inherent risks of physical competition. Athletes would be informed of any risks to themselves as part of their medical supervision, in accordance with T.O. standards.


At first, the Transhuman Olympics might be modeled on the traditional Olympics. A separate set of world records would be created to parallel the traditional records. Growth hormones and cognition enhancers would probably be the primary boosts used at first. Smart fabrics and nanotechnology just now becoming available could also play a role. Imagine a wrestling match between two steroidal hulks, or a discus throw which dwarfed any standing record. Imagine a long jump with bionically-enhanced legs, feet and knees. Archery and riflery could benefit from cognition and eyesight enhancements. And runners could reach speeds and distances previously unheard of.

As the augmentation technology evolved, completely new events might emerge. Genetic engineering and nanotech could blow open the possibilities of what the body could become. Some games might become more primal and animalistic — more smashing, throwing, pulling and lifting than ever before. Others could reach new heights of delicacy and refinement. Gymnastics with extra limbs or cat genes? Floor exercises by strong but freakishly-light bodies? This open-endedness is implicit in the Transhuman ideal, and would be built into the Games’ governing structure.


In addition to redefining what it means to be Human, the T.O. would offer an enormous incentive to develop augmentation and related technologies. This in turn could have spinoffs into medicine, manufacturing, and other areas. It would create a burst of innovation, while at the same time creating a whole new market for extreme entertainment. No doubt people the world over would be fascinated by the spectacle of augmented humans at peak performance.


The idea of the Transhuman Olympics will not sit well with many at first. It is important that the traditional “Human” Olympics be maintained in its current form. In fact, it might be that the traditional Olympics becomes even more traditional, reversing recent decisions to allow hi-tech accessories like low-resistance swimsuits, requiring that their use be restricted to the T.O. The Human Olympics would remain a showcase for the biological limits of human excellence. The T.O. would expand the context in which all performance is measured.


But will it help with cheating? As long as there is a prize to be won, there will likely be cheating. The T.O. is not proposed simply to address this one issue. But it is hoped that by allowing an outlet for mankind’s natural desire to self-transcend, the T.O. will relieve pressure on traditional athletes to dope. And in the process, we could come together as a species to find out what we are truly capable of becoming.

POSTSCRIPT: I am apparently not the first person to think of this. A Google search for “transhuman olympics” revealed some discussion in the past few years. Although it occurred to me independently, clearly this is an idea whose time is coming.

Young woman campaigns in Afghanistan

BBC News has an interesting Photo Journal about Sabrina Sagheb, a 24-year-old woman running in Afghanistan’s parliamentary election.

The photos and associated text reveal a startling mix of currents within today’s Afghan society. I hope she survives until the election.

Sabrina is campaigning on a platform of liberal reform and gender equality.

She hopes to make the wearing of the burkha a matter of choice for all women and advocates an end to forced marriages.

Waking up to climate change

More U.S. companies weighing climate risks [Reuters]

Over the past three years the investors group, the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project, has sent questionnaires to the world’s largest companies by market capitalization, asking them to quantify the greenhouse gases they produce. It also asks them how they plan to manage their greenhouse risks.

This year 60 percent of more than 250 U.S. companies responded to the CDP, up from 42 percent last year. The results were revealed in New York on Wednesday.

You can view the responses from different companies here:

I thought the General Electric response was interesting. But Apple declined to participate — c’mon guys!!

Maunder Minimum

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay.
— Led Zeppelin

Another day of horror as History contorts and folds in on itself. We watch in realtime the economic and human ripples spreading out from a disaster which we all saw approaching. For those caught in the middle of it — mostly the poor, who couldn’t escape — the experience is worlds apart from the mediated petri dish you and I enjoy. I watch the weather radar as the giant spider crawls up east and dies in Canada.

What is the point of talking about it? These are just words. But by commanding words I manipulate your mind. Do I use them responsibly? Like CNN does, pretending to be the Id of the nation? 55 KILLED IN MISSISSIPPI scream the headlines. And you watch those reporters. Man they’re having the time of their life. Wading through the sewage, recording the screams. Oh, the humanity, etc. Thanks Katrina, thanks for boosting my career. Thanks 9/11. Thanks Geraldo. You fat FUCKS.

I am inexplicably angry after soaking up coverage today from multiple sources. I hate "coverage" — always have — so I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, could I do any better? It’s hard being out there in the field, especially with communications so disrupted, and the sewage and all; so whatever. Cut a poor reporter some slack. Just givin’ the people what they want.

And I am one of those people. Maybe my anger stems from guilt at being attracted to the most gruesome tidbits the news has to offer. Cemetary flooded! Caskets everywhere! Trapped in their attics! I can only imagine. But I haven’t really tried. Why bother, when I can read about it from the safety of my shell, getting off on the novelty of horror?

It is fascinating, though, to watch the mobilization of so many resources to respond to the disaster. The national guard, FEMA, CDC and other persons responding as professionals don’t merit the same condemnation I’m leveling at our corrupt journalists. Hell, if the shit went down here, I’d be one of the schmucks stuck up on their roof (hopefully not in the attic), waiting for the Grid to rescue me, and I’d have nothing but gratitude for that helping hand.

So, tomorrow morning should reveal the fresh extent of the disaster, cause tonight’s going to be bad. Really, really bad.

Planet under pressure

BBC does it again! Check out their excellent series “Planet Under Pressure”.

An excerpt from the introduction;

Planet under pressure is more about questions than answers. What sort of lifestyle can the Earth sustain?

How many of us can live at northern consumption levels, and what level should everyone else be expected to settle for?

How can we expect poor people to respect the environment when they need to use it to survive?

Are eco-friendly lives a luxury for the rich or a necessity for everyone?

And how can we act when sizeable and sincere parts of society say we are already overcoming the problems, not being overwhelmed by them?

The X Prize

I found myself reading about the X Prize (now the Ansari X Prize). This is the competition behind last year’s private space flight. Reading their history and mission pages is interesting. They’ve modeled the prize on the aviation prizes of the early 20th Century, which effectively drove the innovation leading to today’s aerospace industry.

These people are using the same model to drive the development of private space flight, and a number of other innovations. It’s really just quite cool.

“The mission of the X PRIZE Foundation is to cause radical breakthroughs in space and other technologies for the benefit of humanity.”

Their motto: Evolution through competition.

And from their Fact Sheet:

Why space?
Space offers adventure
Space provides freedom- a frontier literally without end.
Space can save the Earth

A tiny fraction of the abundant solar energy that flows past the Earth could provide all of our planet’s power needs without greenhouse gasses or nuclear residue-forever. Beyond energy, space offers us unlimited access to the metals and minerals needed for technological expansion and new worlds for our use in developing future societies.

Space flight offers the ultimate personal challenge

Every one of the 500 men and women who have flown in space has said that it was the adventure of a lifetime. They report that viewing the world from higher than the highest mountain is a universally mind-altering experience.

The Oil Endgame

A friend turned me on to The Oil Endgame. You can download the full PDF for free.

I’ve only read the introductory quotes and Executive Summary so far, but this has proven an antidote to my stewing anxiety and anger over what I presumed was a thoroughly-entrenched cultural and economic addiction to oil. The truth is, the economy seeks profit and growth, and the “captains of industry” know better than anyone that oil will increasingly be a losing proposition. Shell and BP may not be pushing energy alternatives out of a deepfelt connection with the planet — but they don't have to. All they have to do is recognize that the successful energy company of the future will manage a diversity of hydrocarbon and increasingly non-hydrocarbon supply chains.

Look, no one is in business in order to pollute; it's just been cheaper historically not to worry about it. No one in the oil business believes oil will last forever; they’re not in denial. The question is who will successfully combine leading-edge technologies with a functional business model, in order to grow themselves out of the oil well?

I don’t believe the transition will be smooth and pretty. But I have full conviction that we’re not going to just watch the oil drain away until the lights go out and society collapses. There are alternatives now and they will have their day, less or more bloodshed later.

WTC: Thoughts

I’ve called most of my friends in New York and so far everyone is accounted for. Family members knew people who were killed.

We’re all kind of shellshocked, like waking up fine in the morning and having your arm amputated by noon. It definitely hits closer to us who have lived there. I feel as if a deep anchor in my subconscious has been cut loose, and it comes at a time when I am feeling a lack of grounding in my own life. It is hard to tell how much these feelings are part of our collective human and American experience right now, and what is tangled up in my own personal story.

Compounding this confusion is my own inherent mistrust of media images, and the statements issued by our government through the media. I have always been critical of taking “coverage” at face value — a stance which was highlighted watching the Branch Davidian compound in Waco burn. Yet in the middle of all this is the incontrovertible fact of the twin towers collapsing. This was a landmark I saw on my way to work every day for years. I’ve been on the top, on the bottom, in the Windows on the World restaurant. To watch planes smashing into it precludes any efforts at simulation, interpretation or spin. There is no room to second-guess these images, unless a hoax of such magnitude has been perpetrated that it would probably take more resources than the act itself. I see footage of dark-skinned people singing and waving the Palestinian flag and am told they are celebrating the attack on America — but I do not know what is really going on. I see the ultimate icon of America’s success crumbling in flames, and there is no need for anyone to interpret this for me. This is the source of the terror — and the success of this terrorist act: that its symbolic force is so direct and so complete.

I have extremely mixed feelings about all of this. The people responsible for this should have their brains slowly scrambled in public, but no human act can compensate for this inhumanity. And yet, I have long been aware that the worldview presented to the American people through our news sources is not the only story. There are people suffering throughout the world as a result of our tax dollars, our civilization and our excess. There is a lot of anger which, though not always well-educated, is not always unjustified. An act of aggression against civilians is unforgiveable — but tell that to a nation who dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. I understand the anger of many in the Middle East against us, to the extent that I know the facts. The problem is I know so little — as little as most Americans. Combine that with my own skepticism of the CNN version, I find it hard to take a position. I fear we are facing times when this noncomittal stance will become untenable, perhaps even criminal, yet the issues involved are not as clear as any side would have us believe.

Our civilization had fancied itself free from History, but History has reached up and grabbed our leg as we were scrambling for the escape hatch. It is resounding all about us, and will continue to do so for some time yet.