It’s 2011. Where are the flying cars? Someone promised me flying cars?
Well, theoretical physicist, science popularizer, and science fiction buff Michio Kaku knows where they are. And he tells you about it in The Physics of the Future. Kaku has appeared on the Science Channel with a series pondering such science fiction concepts as the Death Star and warp drive and found some very real-world possibilities for creating them. Kaku’s conclusions about the future of computing, energy, and even the human species itself are compelling.
Among the things he speculates on…
- The Internet, even the computer, will soon disappear. Chips are becoming so small and cheap, they’ll be in everything. The Internet, he suggests, will be delivered to glasses or contact lenses that let you look at anyone or anything and get whatever data you want about it/them. Handheld MRI boxes will scan your body and diagnose diseases like cancer long before it could be fatal. Imagine pancreatic cancer, almost always a death sentence when detected, being treated by a box of pills packed with nanites that destroy errant cells while you go about your business.
- Kaku does not seem to be a fan of singularity, the point when machines overtake humans as the primary intelligence on Earth. He seems to believe that the nature of computers will forever hamstring artificial intelligence as machines simply aren’t geared for common sense and pattern recognition. He concedes it could be a possibility, but expresses doubts.
- Which is not to say machines aren’t getting smarter. He postulates an artificial intelligence application that would function as your personal physician by 2100. Some machines may actually seem sentient and intelligent.
- The age of oil is rapidly coming to a close, since we are running out. But fusion, for once, really is about 20 years out. There are not just one but three different reactor designs, all likely to produce more energy than they use. By 2100, the first commercial reactors will be retired. The nice thing is that fusion reactors cannot meltdown, and what radioactive waste they produce is only toxic for about fifty years.
- The goal for transportation engineers by mid-century will not be fuel efficiency or battery efficiency but getting rid of friction. Superconductors will replace asphalt, and cars will simply coast above the road using very little fuel or juice. The only friction will be the air.
- Nanites will be everywhere, even in our bodies. Between nanotechnology and gene therapy, we may be able to stall aging indefinitely.
- The biggest challenges will be dealing with leftover CO2 in the air, the transition from oil to non-petroleum-based energy, and producing food. Also, something will have to replace silicon (probably quantum computing) when Moore’s Law runs out of gas. (Get ready for another Great Recession about ten years after this one ends.)
- Imagine having your entire genetic code on a thumb drive sequenced for about $100. Imagine growing replacement organs and limbs in a lab. Actually, simple organs like livers are already being grown. Hearts and limbs are probably twenty years off.
- Technology always gets cheaper. The $500 laptop this post was written on computes runs circles around the pocket calculator you used in high school which is light years ahead of the room-sized behemoth that was ENIAC in 1946.
- Programmable matter is already in the lab. Imagine downloading new furniture or programming a skyscraper.