What is the future going to be like? Physics of the Future tries to answer this question in an engaging, thought provoking and visionary account of the possibilities that, according to the author, Michio Kaku, will be transformed into reality in the coming decades. The book will not be a disappointment to fans of Kaku and can be considered as a sequel to his previous work, Visions, but with a more expansive view.
Physics outlines four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. Kaku is of the opinion that each time a force of nature is understood by scientists and harnessed by engineers it sets in motion a chain reaction of novel and unique technologies determining the course of human development. In Physics, Kaku interviews more than 300 scientists and inventors who are working day and night to push the boundaries of science and technology. Essentially, the theme of the book is similar to the works of futurists like Ray Kurzweil, however, the treatment of the topic is more vivid and easier to understand.
Kaku seems to be following the footsteps of visionary futurists like Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne. He explores the impact of physics on the areas of computer science, artificial intelligence, medicine, nanotechnology, alternative energy and space travel. Kaku scientifically predicts what new technologies will enter in the following decades, what will be achieved by the mid-21st century, and finally what we will accomplish by the end of it.
The narrative, introducing prospects of controlling computers through the human mind, resurrecting extinct animals, travelling to other planets and genetically enhancing our disease resistance, is exciting to read. The author claims that we might even be able to bring back the Neanderthal. However, he pinpoints the ethical dilemmas associated with such achievements by quoting Richard Klein, an anthropologist at Stanford: “Are you going to put the Neanderthals in a zoo or in Harvard?”
In the last chapter, Kaku introduces the reader to an imaginary character living in the 22nd century. Biologically, he is in his 70s but the age of his organs is mid-30s. He rides a self-driven car. Nano-bots monitor the crucial indicators of his health while roaming in his bloodstream. What distinguishes this book from works of science fiction is that every prediction in the book is based on research and supported by prototypes being developed across the globe.
Kaku also analyses the economic and social history of our civilisation and explains that new technologies are the engines of both scientific and social change. He rightly points out that the economic recessions of the 1850s, 1920s and 2008 were due to the “speculative fever” created around specific sectors: the railroad, automotive stocks and real estate, respectively.
He warns that when the British Empire was shifting its focus from scientific innovation to more mundane matters of power-play, the US was emerging as a leader in research and advancement of knowledge in all fields. However, if the majority of the US talent is going into the investment sector and managing the finances of others, in which region will the most brilliant minds pursue the cause of innovation and exploring the truth?
Kaku further chalks out the ranking of civilisations which was first introduced in 1964 by Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev — on the basis of the energy they consume. This ranking was mainly proposed to identify the powers of extra terrestrial intelligent civilisations and classify them into three types. Type I consumes planetary sources of energy, mainly sunlight that falls on their planet; Type II consumes all the energy produced by their sun, while Type III consumes the energy produced by all the stars of their galaxy. Our current status is perhaps that of a Type 0 since we consume the energy of dead plants (oil and coal). Kaku estimates that given the economic growth rate we will be able to achieve the status of a Type I civilisation by the end of the century.
Physics of the Future not only tells us what is probable and possible in the future, it also gives researchers and inventors a timescale to measure their successes against. Moreover, it makes the reader feel excited about the times we are living in, when we can expect ‘miracles’ to happen in our lifetimes. Kaku points out that “By 2100, our destiny is to become like the gods we once worshipped and feared.”
Physics of the Future: How Science will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY) By Michio Kaku Doubleday, New York ISBN 0385530803 416pp. $28.95