Science fiction and fantasy
Physics Of The Future
by Michio Kaku
In between all the name-dropping and Star Trek references there's also some science. Because the scope is very broad this book's treatment of each topic is very shallow. It covers computers, AI, medicine, nanotechnology, energy, space travel, wealth, and the future of humanity. I found that I already knew quite a few of the facts and quotes presented in this book. To put that in some kind of context, my scientific and technical education consists of teaching myself to use a couple of web programming languages, a physics GCSE, and a sporadic interest in popular science books. Physics of the Future was a bit too basic for me. I also didn't find it hard to understand at any point.
So, on to the shiny future of handheld MRI scanners, universal translators, maglev cars, regrown organs, anti-cancer nanobots, morphing furniture, and tiny spaceships. All of the sensationalist stuff gets top billing. The author briefly mentions a number of looming catastrophes, such as the imminent collapse of Moore's law (which states that computing power doubles every 18 months) due to the laws of physics. There's also a mention for global warming, peak oil, and overpopulation. These negatives are addressed, but there's a definite tone of "science will solve it all", particularly in the chapter dealing with the future of wealth. In this section the author examines financial bubbles and crashes through the lens of major scientific breakthroughs. It's an interesting way of seeing things, and well worth considering.
The discussion on nanotechnology deals with quantum computers that are so tiny they compute on individual atoms, and this is typical of the amazing applications of science the book deals with. These computers are plagued by problems with "decoherence", which means that they stop vibrating in phase with one another whenever they are disturbed by the slightest external motion. The author writes, "Anyone who can solve the problem of decoherence will not only win a Nobel Prize but will also become the richest man on earth." I wasn't aware that the Nobel Prize awarding institutions required female laureates to undergo a sex change? This casual sexism seems like a one-off, but it still annoyed me.
The chapter entitled A Day in the Life 2100 isn't actually a day, it's several, where the author imagines the daily routine of a man in the future. I wish science writers would refrain from this sort of thing unless they have some aptitude for writing fiction. It's not compelling because there's no conflict and the character (written in the second person!) is dull, but more than that it doesn't tell us anything we don't already know by reading the rest of the book. So little story made the author's rose-tinted view of the future seem even less credible.
26th March 2013
If you like this, try:Weapons Of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil
Big Data has infiltrated many aspects of our daily lives. But the algorithms that determine our schooling, jobs, insurance, finances, and more may not be as fair or useful as we believe.
The New North: The World In 2050 by Laurence C. Smith
Will rising population and temperatures and thawing permafrost lead to a future dominated by bustling northern cities?
Inflight Science by Brian Clegg
This book examines the science behind flying, from check in at the airport to touch down.
Review © Ros Jackson
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