Saturday April 14, 2012
Journeying with science
Review by ABBY WONG
Commanding the future with intelligent gadgets, pixie dust, nanoparticles and magnetism
Title: Physics of the Future: How science will shape human destiny and our daily lives by the year 2100
Author: Michio Kaku
Publisher: Anchor Books
THE idea that by the end of this century humans will have godlike capability to command nature at their fingertips sounds like lunacy. And if you agree, the book that prophesies this as well as a slew of many other futuristic ideas will seem to you the epitome of outlandish fantasies coming from a lunatic author Michio Kaku.
But wait, Kaku is not insane. He, in fact, is a well-regarded quantum physicist, the co-founder of string-field theory, a renowned professor and a best-selling author who popularises and communicates to the public about science.
His previous books on the universe, cosmos and other higher dimensions may seem eccentric to anyone less inclined to science, or unmoved by the exponential growth of technology. But, this book of his makes science immensely fascinating and the future frighteningly astounding.
The scenarios presented in this book, the best book Kaku has ever penned, however, are not Kaku's own posits. It is a journey seen through the eyes of more than 300 scientists whom Kaku met from filming TV specials for BBC, Discovery Channel and Science Channel.
These scientists are too busy doing cutting edge research, creating devices and making breakthroughs to revolutionise civilisation far into the next century to have the time to write a book.
Kaku, as an insider sitting in the front-row seat of this great revolution, wrote it with equally creditable insights but as a much better prose than any scientists who tend to be more eloquent in numbers than in words. It is a prose by no means as powdery as that of literary writers but one that is confidently clear and admiringly simple.
“When we blink our eyes, we will go online,” Kaku evokes in the first chapter about the future of computer.
“Eventually, almost everything around us will become intelligent.”
By 2030, the internet will be everywhere in wall screens, furniture, on billboards, in our glasses, contact lenses. The destiny of computers is to make everything nano, to disappear into the fabric of our lives, yet to appear everywhere even in bathrooms and in our bodies and clothes. Not only will our diseased organs be ordered and replaced, our tissues will also be able re-grow into entire limbs using pixie dust!
Although these breakthroughs may seem light years away, they are in fact technologies already taking place in laboratories. “Pixie dust” has helped regrow fingertips at the University of Pittsburgh and the tiny magnetic disks have killed cancer cells by shaking violently to tear apart cell walls of cancer.
In tests performed by scientists at the University of Chicago, 90% of cancer cells were killed after just 10 minutes of shaking. Even now, one can imagine nanoparticles moving through our bloodstream, homing in on a diseased organ and delivering life-saving drugs to the precise locations in the body. These technologies could make cutting the skin and chemotherapy as backward as typewriters are now.
Deceptively technical and scientific, based on the title, the book does venture into economics and humanity with every chapter delving briefly, yet recurringly into mythology, religions, history and films. What we conjecture in the end of the book is for humans to become like the gods. We will harness the power of stars the energy source of the gods, immortality and agelessness will be granted to us not by Zeus but through science.
In place of fossil fuel is solar, and by 2070 magnetism will replace electricity. Hence, any economic problems feared as a result of energy shortages will be wiped out by mid-century, and overpopulation can be resolved by moving to Mars as earth will no longer be big enough for both mankind and robots to co-exist in the ways we often see in films.
When the Chinese turned inward and the Ottoman Empire retreated into religious isolation, Europe lunged forward because of the importance it placed on science and technology. Its dominance lasted for centuries until perhaps now when the world is once again at this significant trajectory where science determines world dominance.
“Science and technology is the engines of prosperity,” writes Kaku.
The future is wide open. Lessons in history can be used lest tragedies recur. But if robots can multiply themselves so quickly, what roles do mankind play? This book may not be able to precisely predict the fate of the human race and future civilisation; it will not, nonetheless, underestimate it as most sci-fi futurists commonly have.
It is a sneak peep into the future, and that peep is entertaining, frightening, eye opening, awe inspiring, touching and captivating all at once.
Let's hope we can live long enough to sip from the fountain of youth, Kaku says will exist by mid-century, to witness the future. Otherwise, it is equally instructive to experience the remaining century by reading this excellent book although we will miss out on seeing dinosaurs, woolly mammoths and cave men resurrected using advanced DNA technologies available before the year 2100.