Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Not great writing, but a good guess about the future


How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100
Optimistic, scientifically sound forecasts of wonders in store for us.
Physicist and science writer Kaku (Theoretical Physics/City Univ. of New York; Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel, 2008, etc.) divides his chapters into “near future” (until 2030), “mid-century” (2030 to 2070) and “far future” (2070 to 2100). Each begins with familiar technology and ongoing research. The near future of computers will give us self-driving cars and computers cheap enough to be disposable. Mid-century will see universal translators, and by 2100 thinking will control computers, producing instant, person-to-person communication and the ability to manipulate our environment, including malfunctioning body parts. Doctors already cure rare genetic diseases by inserting a single healthy gene into a patient’s cells. Correcting complex genetic defects (e.g., diabetes, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s) and growing artificial organs is a matter of decades; vastly increasing longevity will come later. Genuine artificial intelligence will arrive later this century. It will take longer for machines to attain self-awareness and become smarter than us, writes the author, but it’s inevitable. Ditto for fusion energy, laser-powered rockets and high-tech cures for global warming, but in this case readers may be more skeptical—computer and genetic-engineering marvels seem reasonable because we’re used to dazzling progress; other technologies have moved more slowly. Because Kaku is old enough to remember post–World War II forecasts that 2000 would bring interplanetary travel, the conquest of disease, world government and flying cars, he cherry-picks a few home runs from these old prophecies but understandably passes over futurology’s dismal success rate.
The author’s scientific expertise will engage readers too sophisticated for predictions based on psychic powers or astrology.
Agent: Stuart Krichevsky/Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency

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