Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Physics Of The Future

by Michio Kaku


Physics of the Future is one of the more optimistic views of the way science and technology could shape the future that I've read in some time. And although the title mentions physics, the subject matter ranges over such a broad variety of topics that it covers most sciences.

The author isn't shy of blowing his own trumpet. We learn how he constructed a particle accelerator in his mother's garage as a teenager, interviewed hundreds of scientists whilst researching this book, and got access to various high-security scientific installations in the course of his TV work. He's also a huge movie buff, so every chapter is peppered with references to the scientific accuracy, or otherwise, of various science fiction blockbusters. This makes it more accessible for anyone who has seen most of those films, but if you haven't then it may be more confusing.

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

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books


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