Unless you're the product of a feral childhood or a member of a hunter-gathering tribe from the third world, there's a really good chance that you're familiar with the comic-book legend of Superman. Even 74 years after he made his debut on the front page of Action Comics, he remains a powerful force in the American cultural landscape. In fact, the only thing that can match the power he exudes on pop culture is his godlike supernatural physical abilities.
It is precisely those stupendous superpowers that elicit our adulation. We love Superman because he can do things that we can only dream of. That will change very soon as we undergo the "biotech revolution."
We are currently at the beginning stages of this revolution that will prove to be one of the most transformative
eras in human history, and our bodies will be the beneficiary of most of the innovations.
To elucidate the sorts of innovations we can expect within the next 20 years, I defer to renown futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil (who has arguably the most stunning track-record of technological predictions).
Kurzweil suggests that by 2030 many of our bodies will have nanobots, the size of red blood cells, which are billions of times more powerful than our computers today. These nanobots will be instrumental in regulating our immune systems and various aspects of our bodies.
The nanobots, which will be inside most of us, will basically get rid of the bad stuff and reinforce the good parts of our DNA. This has huge implications for the future of the sports world as athletes will be able to make their genes (and hence their entire bodies) more powerful and more resilient to injury.
Barry Ptolemy, director of the highly acclaimed film on Kurzweil, Transcendent Man, echoes the renown futurist's predictions. Ptolemy suggests that very soon we will have access to pill that can be ingested to rewrite our entire software code.
Consider this. As you read this, the ends of your DNA in all the cells of your body are slowly eroding. The body repairs the ends (called telomeres), but it loses the battle over time. Wrinkles appear in your skin, but that's only one obvious change while millions of degenerations like wrinkles happen to cells throughout the organs of your body. Like your skin's visible deterioration, your thoughts become cloudier, your muscles weaker.
Today we elucidate how the body tries to fight this process, but tomorrow we aim to master it. We will approach the day that we can repair our DNA ad infinitum.
The cycle of aging is built into all of the systems of our society. Consider the implications of profoundly extending (or perhaps ending) this cycle. You can maintain your youthful physique for decades. For the world of sports this is significant because it means that athlete could presumably play at a professional level well into their 50s or beyond.
So much like Superman, future athletes will be able to use technology to maintain their prime physique and develop immunity to various injuries currently plaguing some of our best talents. But perhaps the
most exciting thing to come out of the biotech revolution will be the performance-enhancers.
As we've seen, the same technology that can help us become more resilient to injury can be used to make us stronger and faster than ever before.
Similarly the supplements of the future will alter our DNA to make us both healthier and more athletically dominant. We've already witnessed the impact that steroids have had on sports, but the next generation of performance-enhancing drugs will make steroids look like child's play.
Unlike the stuff that Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong used, these supplements will likely be legal in the sporting community because of their innocuous nature and proliferation.
We can only speculate about the impact that these performance-enhancing drugs will have on the individual's athletic ability. We don't know how far these future drugs will take us. But due to their ability to completely alter almost every fiber of our body, we can say with confidence that their impact on the individual, and thus the sports-world, will be unprecedented.
In addition to performance-enhancing supplements, the athletes of the very near-future will be assisted by bionic technology. Similar to Lee Majors' character, The Six Million Dollar Man, bionic implants of
various kinds will be the norm. Many of these bionic enhancers won;t be visible (they could be the size of the nanobots that Ray Kurzweil referenced), but they will be extremely effective.
Bionic limbs have only recently become manifest in the sports world. The Most notable example of this technology being used (against able-bodied athletes) was the 2012 London Olympics. This event marked
the first time an athlete competed with two bionic limbs. South African sprinter Oscar Pistorious demonstrated the benefit that bionic technology can have in athletic competition as he ran the 4 x 400 meter sprint. His bionic limbs didn't enable him to outcompete the other sprinters but the bionic innovations of the next 20 years will probably enable humans to surpass human limitations. It is likely that the next generation of athletes, aided by biotech innovations, will be the ones to break commonly-held conceptions of what is physically possible.
The effects of technology can be subtle, as well. Tiger Woods underwent laser eye surgery to see better than 20/20 vision. Although she received the procedure for medical reasons, Diane van Deren's brain surgery altered her perception of time in a way that has enabled her to become one of the most successful female extreme distance runners in human history. Both she and Woods show no immediate outward
sign of their superior physical structures they possess.
Thus, in a very short period of time, we will see true superhumans. Athletes who can outpace horses, bench-press thousands of pounds and jump ten feet in the air, will likely emerge on the scene. The Superman-athlete is about to make his mark on the sports world and there will be no turning back.