Book Review: The Physics of the Future

Michio Kaku looks at the future and makes some very interesting predictions about the next 100 years.

Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 is a smart and interesting read, though at times the language could be livelier. The New York Times had less kind words, calling it "dull" and "charmless".

"Reading a dull, charmless nonfiction book is almost always better than reading a dull, charmless novel. With a nonfiction book, you might at least learn something."

I disagree.

Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist, a popular voice in science, and a best-selling author. His books include:

He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein's search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory, according to his web site

Dr. Kaku looks at the future and makes some very interesting predictions about the next 100 years. He compiled information on computers, artificial intelligence, medicine, nanotechnology, space travel and more. Much of the information was through first hand observation of the newest technology on the planet, as well as by interviewing subject matter experts in the areas covered in the book.

The Future of the Computer
The computer has gone from a tool for scientist, to a utility that is provided via "the cloud" in the near future. Dr. Kaku provides a model where the computer is ubiquitous, RFID chips are in everything, and we are all interconnected to each other and our environments. Robots have taken over all jobs that are manual in nature, leaving for humans only jobs which are creative in nature.

The Singularity is explored, where robots are able to create generations of ever increasingly intelligent robots. One version of this has these uber intelligent robots shooting out into space, until they "reach other planets, stars and galaxies in order to convert them to computers."

The Future of Artificial Intelligence
The book correctly points out that AI has cycles, where we expect quite a bit, but then are disappointed to learn that AI is simply a very fast way to do calculations. And, unless we specifically program actions, no AI will learn enough to carry out even the most simple actions through learning.

A cockroach is smarter with regard to the ability to learn and make decisions based on environmental input than any computer we can build today.

The Future of Medicine
This is an area where more computing power typically equals breakthroughs. He spends a good deal of time discussing the human genome project and mapping of DNA. We are very close to a day where we will be able to choose genetic traits as we choose a side dish with our dinners. Very exciting stuff to come.

I have often advocated that the utopia on Star Trek is only possible because of the invention of replication technology. Replication technology has the potential to provide us access to anything that we desire or need. Dr. Kaku argues that this has the potential to change the future of economics and wealth -- undoing the capitalist system that we have today.

He goes further, suggesting that there will be a malleable nanotechnology that will allow us to replicate something, but also to reconfigure something into something new or different. For example, to program our couch to reconfigure into a more modern couch.

The requirement is that the couch be constructed of a new nanotechnology. In fact, you can redo the entire house this way. This is a very long way away, in my opinion.

The Future of Energy
He covers all of the current energy options from electricity, solar, hydrogen, wind, to nuclear fission. The most interesting aspect of this section for me was the near term move to magnetic power.

"Imagine riding in a magnetic car, hovering above the ground and traveling at several hundred miles per hour, using almost no fuel. Imagine trains and even people traveling in the air, floating on magnetism", he writes.

Dr. Kaku also covers the future of space travel, wealth, and humanity. Ending the book with a day in the life, he takes the reader through a typical day interacting with all of the technology that he has covered in the book. It's one of the better sections of the book.

All in all, I would say it is worth a read.

What do you think?

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