Finished reading Physics of the Future (2011) by Michio Kaku.
This is a neat look into how current science could shape the world over the next hundred years or so. And considering the book itself is more than 10 years old at this point, it’s interesting to see how the “near future” predictions have or haven’t come to fruition.
One of the most fascinating areas that Kaku’s book dives into is the future of energy. He sees us moving from the current age of electricity into the age of magnetism, given that we can find a solution for creating room-temperature superconductors. The result could revolutionize everyday experiences like travel and stimulate a positive effect against climate change. Although, I have my doubts about first-world willingness to scrap our current electrical infrastructure no matter how great the benefits of a new system would be. There's also a nuance look into nuclear energy - the benefits it proposes as an alternative to fossil fuels, as well as the dangers associated with it, which continue to make us shy away from its potential.
Another idea that struck me over the course of the book is that although someone as intelligent as Kaku can predict future scientific advancements, it’s not as straightforward to predict public sentiment concerning their adoption. For example, much of his vision for the future revolved around the shrinking physical footprint of most gadgets and paid little mind to public aversion against “personally” invasive technology (like proposed health sensors constantly sending data to your doctors). This reflects the mindset of the early 2010s where everyone was enamored with smaller and smaller cell-phones and hadn’t caught today’s “digital privacy” hysteria. There is also relatively little mention of artificial intelligence, which is shaping up to be the technological trademark of the generation now. (Kaku was also slightly dismissive of the extent to which AI could encroach on creative fields, an idea that hasn’t aged well as we now see computers writing and creating artwork much like humans do.)
And speaking of computers, Physics of the Future also imagines a world where computer chips become as ubiquitous a commodity as paper - something we are certainly trending toward as everything from TVs to appliances are “smart” gadgets and the rise of e-waste affirms the disposable nature of once precious and expensive computer chips. Kaku even envisions a step beyond today’s silicon chips into quantum computing at the atomic level - the smallest and most powerful computing we can achieve.
And small-scale technology seems to be the future of many other advancements as well. Self-assembling nanobots could make everything from furniture to buildings modular, as well as supplying a means to explore the solar system beyond the limits of today’s rockets and satellites.
Kaku sees a future of improved health, with access to personal MRI technology, gene augmentation, and less invasive surgery thanks to the aforementioned nanobots. But he also notes that such advancements could begin to blur the line between what is man or machine, and to what extent DNA modifications have gone too far.
Physics of the Future doesn’t directly address this, but through Kaku’s predictions of scientific development over the next hundred years, I see a forthcoming struggle of tradeoffs. Many technological benefits on the horizon come at the cost of personal freedoms and our current feelings toward manipulating nature and ourselves to “play God”. Who’s to say what balance we will strike in the coming century? But in any case, this book really does indicate that we’re living in an unparalleled age in the advancement of science and technology - and I’m left with a mix of caution and excitement over the developments yet to come in my lifetime.