Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (2011)

By Dr. Michio Kaku

Rating: 8/10

The author engages in a fascinating (and sometimes freaky) exercise in extrapolation from current cutting-edge technologies.  Dr. Kaku interviewed some 300 scientists around the world who are pushing the boundaries of their fields, and then predicts what this groundwork will lead to over the next 90 years.  Dr. Kaku argues that “following the science” makes sense when prognosticating our future since science and technology has been the guiding forces of civilization for millenia.

He investigates the futures of eight areas of development (remember, all of this already has groundwork laid right now):

1. Computers– eventually we’ll control them with direct electronic signals from our brains.  Heck, they’ll be such a ubiquitous commodity that they’ll literally be everywhere: in our clothes, in our houses, heck, we won’t even have computers as we know them today because we’ll simply be online all the time via contact lenses.

This author admits that this artistic rendition might be a slight exaggeration.

2. AI– the Hollywood version of the “rise of the machines” is unlikely (at least, in a single-apocalyptic event sort of way).  Rather, since coding always needs to be done by humans (he doesn’t entertain the idea that an AI can write new code for itself), and since computers lack “common sense” (the sole-providence of human beings), it’s more likely we’ll simply merge with machines via cybernetics to improve our own bodies.  Computers won’t become as “smart” as humans for a long while since “intelligence” includes things like pattern recognition and other complicated processes that computers simply are not that good at.  But they’ll take over driving and other mundane tasks that we won’t have to bother with anymore.

3. Medicine– constant monitoring by ubiquitous sensors will allow us to nip diseases in the bud.  We’ll soon have medical scanners like they do in Star Trek, and invasive operations will be a thing of the past.  Further, by decoding various DNA (including ours), we’ll be able to resurrect extinct lifeforms, manipulate genes (to prevent diseases), design our children (!), and, of course, create weapons of horrendous lethality through the manipulation of genetic material.  Or we might be able to live forever… (see below).

4. Nanotechnology– going beyond mere molecules, we’ll be able to further manipulate individual atoms and create things seemingly out of nothing.  Once the “replicator” is built, no one in the world will want for anything–we’ll truly have become masters of the planet.  Tiny robots will help keep our bodies clear of contagion, and can even help keep us young, extending our life expectancy by ten times its current length.  (See where this is going yet?)

5. Energy– Oil will give way to a solar and hydrogen economy (the former being inherently unsustainable).  Also, moving in this direction will allow us to address global warming which the burning of  fossil fuels is exacerbating.  Fusion power will also be a possibility, but the end goal is the ‘age of magnetism’ run by superconductors. Or we might collect solar power more efficiently from space, and beam it down to power the Earth.

6. Space Travel– Due to prohibitive costs, we’ll probably only get as far as Mars and the asteroid belt with manned-spaceflight.  Though we might try to build a colony there (or on the moon) to allow further exploration.  (Getting out of the Earth’s atmosphere using chemical rockets is what makes space explorations so expensive. If we can start outside that atmosphere, costs drop exponentially).  We might even have a space elevator (made of carbon nanotubes) to get us up to a space station or beyond.

7. Wealth– As the nature of technology changes, so will the jobs and wealth (i.e. capitalism) that it creates.  If we can eliminate the scarcity of commodities, than intellectual capitalism will rule the day.  The types of jobs and fate of nations hangs in the balance, and the “winners” will be those who embrace scientific and technological progress.  We need to focus our brightest and best on science (especially the US which is now lagging behind), not finances in order to make the most out our potential as a species.

8. Humanity– While the energy consumption of the human race increases, we are moving toward a planetary civilization.  How we deal with the waste of that energy consumption will determine if we prosper of self-implode.  IF we’re able to control the entropy created by our energy needs through nanotechnology, room-temperature superconductors, and by becoming conservators of the natural world, we just might survive and cross the threshold to become a Type I civilization capable of indefinite self-sustainability.  If not, we’ll drown in the high tides of our own pollution and waste.

Overall Dr. Kaku is optimistic; he believes in humanity and its ability to make the right choices.  He does not deny dangers and obstacles on the road, but he believes we can overcome them.  His concluding “a day in the life of 2100” is a bit of a goofy mash-up of his predictions, but it’s a bit entertaining nonetheless.  This work seems mightily important, if only to understand how far our progression in science and technology has come, and some critical thinking about where it will take us.

 

Favorite quotes:

” The key to a democracy is an educated, informed electorate that can rationally and dispassionately discuss the issues of the day.” (p.351)

“From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, perfection meant wisdom rooted in experience and in the relationships by which the moral life is learned through example.  Our perfection lies not in gene enhancement, but in the enhancement of character. -Steven Post” (p.353)

“The Roots of Violence:

Wealth without work,

Pleasure without conscience,

Knowledge without character,

Commerce without morality,

Science without humanity,

Worship without sacrifice,

Politics without principles.

-Mahatma Gandhi” (p.368)

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