Michio Kaku’s “The Future of Humanity”

 

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The renowned and brilliant Physicist, Michio Kaku lays out an astonishing and mind blowing future for Humanity in his book that makes bold predictions on how the continuing advancement of science will not only take Humanity to the stars but could also change who we are as a species as the gleaming prospect of immortality beckons to those who believe technology will save us from our ills.

There is little doubt about it, Kaku’s brilliance shines again in writing this book and the scenes and images he sturs in the reader, surpass even the most captivating scifi novel. From envisioning Mars as a livable, breathable and water abundant planet, to beaming consciousness through space via laser, to say Kaku’s envisioned possibilities for the future are bold and radical may be an understatement. Kaku’s predictions are built on the assumptions that the advancement of science and technology will not only continue but continue in a way in which science will govern every action and decision of humanity. Thinking and conscious machines, are a near for-sure reality to be in Kaku’s mind (although acknowledging that at present, the AI field is not as far along as many believe it to be) and this allows him to make the prediction that these machines will help us in transcending our mortal bodies, terraforming mars, constructing massive star ships and building colonies across the galaxy. While Kaku has often publicly been fairly wishy-washy when asked on his beliefs on the mystery of consciousness and on whether or not a God exists, he makes it pretty clear early on in this book that his worldview is purely materialist. Consider when he says in the prologue, “Thanks to the human Connectome Project, which will map every neuron in the human brain, one day we may be able to send our connectomes into outer space on giant laser beams, eliminating a number of problems in interstellar travel.” Kaku believes that is very possible that our consciousness can be downloaded to a computer and thus we can escape our mortal bodies. He goes on to say, “……in other words our destiny is to become the gods that we once feared and worshipped. Science will give us the means by which we can shape the universe in our image.” These are extremely bold statements for a scientist to make and while it is fair to state that he does use “may” much. more often than “will” throughout the book. I couldnt help but think while reading this book that Kaku is not up to date on his consciousness research in making such bold claims about our future. But no matter, for the sake of this article and the other intriguing prospects that this book offers, we can ignore Kaku’s commitment to pleasing the scientific mainstream or his failure to look into and acknowledge other ground breaking research (which ever it is, who knows!) and explore the absolutely splendid and mind blowing future of technology and space travel!

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Kaku often talks about the inspiration he received on imagining the future from Issac Asmov’s, “Foundation” scifi novel series. These books were not only a favorite of his but a cherished series among many would be scientists growing up in the late 20th century. It is easy to see how those with an deep sense of wonder would become entrenched by these novels. While I personally have not read these series, they defiantly are next on my list as what the books entail is a no less fascinating vision of the future. The synopsis implies that in the far far future, humanity has strung out across the galaxy, to an innumerable amount of planets and solar systems. So much time has passed, that Humanity has even forgotten their planet of origin. But in the midst of decline, barbarism and anarchy and as the once supreme Galactic empire begins to fade away, the protagonist gathers the very best of humanity on a lone planet to preserve science, reason and hope for a better future.

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It is not hard to see how there could be a lot to learn and many interesting things imagined from these books. And as many scientists say nowadays, ‘what was once science fiction, often becomes science fact!’ I think it is clear that Kaku defiantly has that thinking in mind when envisioning the technological future. In the beginning chapters of “The Future of Humanity,” he starts small and saves the most ‘out-there’ moments for the end of the book. For example he starts with a brief history of science, innovation and more specifically, rocketry. He talks about the revolutionary innovations made by German scientists during WW2 and how these innovations were then used and improved upon by the United States amidst the Space race with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He jumps forward to the present day and describes the state of the current space program with enthusiasm. He details the rise of space commercialism and the promise of Boeing and SpaceX to take us to Mars. He’s even not afraid to throw NASA under the bus in describing the famed US space agency’s progress as, “glacial.” While NASA has made it a goal to put Humans on Mars by the 2030’s, Musk may do it by 2023, which may be a bit to ambitious if you ask me. And while I knew that there will be challenges in landing humans on Mars or the moons of the outer social system, but just how difficult was never made quite clear to me as Kaku does in this book, and I could not help but think of Matt Damon’s character from “The Martian” saying, “This is Space, it doesn’t cooperate.”

Kaku allures to the possible reality that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and others in the private sector, may ultimately be the ones leading the charge in colonizing Mars and beyond. With a man as driven, as intelligent, successful and ambitious as Musk, who could argue with such a suggestion?

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Kaku is renowned for talking about the different types of civilizations across the universe that would fall into 3 different categories. Type 1 civilizations, Type II and ultimately Type III civilizations, that would hold so much mastery over matter in the universe that they would much more resemble Gods than physical, organic beings. With being able to harness the energy of entire stars using futuristic structures like the Dyson sphere, which is essentially a gigantic solar panel that would be built by self replicating robots and would surround and nearly enclose an entire star. This scifi structure has actually been suggested in observing bizarre phenomena that Astronomers are seeing in star KIC 8462852 (aka Tabby’s Star or Boyajian’s Star) located in the constellation Cygnus. While a large cloud and band of comets is the more reasonable and often touted explanation, it is interesting that a scifi concept is still being considered in explaining the unique phenomena around this star.

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While Kaku labels Humanity a type 0 civilization because we have barely mastered spaceflight and haven’t efficiently mastered the energy of our own planet in a sustainable way, a type 3 civilization will have found a way around the vast distances that stretch between stars and solar systems. They will probably use interdimensional and worm hole travel to get to one star to another. They likely will have escaped the biological constraints of their organic bodies and very much may be more machine than biological. This echoes what many Astronomers have been saying for a while, that the first intelligent alien life we encounter, may very well be machine. This is a bit of an uncanny thought if you ask me!

One of my favorite parts of Kaku’s book, was chapter 8, ‘Building a Starship.’ This chapter really caught my attention as well my imagination because Kaku theorized all the potential ways and methods Humanity could use to travel the cosmos. But he is also fervently honest about the problems and challenges that we are faced with in confronting interstellar space travel. The distances are just so ginormous and the cost and work it would take just to get us to be able to send a human made spacecraft to a nearby star, is a huge problem indeed. From nano ships and laser sails, to multi generational starships in which generations of humans will live upon but most never living to see the arrival at the new planet, there is much speculation about the best ways humans can colonize the stars. Nano ships being propelled by lasers sails is perhaps one of the most realistic methods at the moment to reach our nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Using a vast array of laser beams on earth, we could fire extremely tiny nano chips (perhaps the size of the end of your thumb) attached to sails to achieve the speed of about 20% the speed of light. At this speed we could reach our nearest neighboring star in about twenty years. Not a bad deal considering it would take about 46,000 years using current methods! But of course the potential hurdles for this method remain enormous, with the cost being one and also the amount of precision and low margin for error regarding directing the lasers. Kaku theorized that laser relay stations, which would be used to further propel, direct and correct the course of the spacecraft, could be built in the outer solar system utilizing intelligent, self replicating machines but of course that technology has to come to fruition first. Fusion and antimatter rockets are other interesting options in taking humanity to the stars but in the end a problem that all these technologies share (on top of all the other hurdles) is the issue concerning approaching the speed of light. Einstein saw the speed of light as the ultimate velocity in the universe and figured out that when you approach it, bizarre things start to happen. Time slows down, weight becomes heavier….in fact if you were to ever reach the speed of light, time would stop all together. Einstein’s theories, set the cosmic speed limit in the universe and according to them, it is impossible for us to reach it. Even traveling at near the speed of light (which is possible, well kind of! :P) , would make the starship difficult to maneuver, stop and hard to prevent collisions with asteroids and other cosmic debris.

But here is the kicker! If you include negative energy and negative matter as solutions to Einstein’s relativity equations, then, according to Stephen Hawking, faster than light travel is possible! Who ever said theoretical physics was simple?

This brings us to the next step in this problem, which concerns wormholes and warp drives. Kaku guides the reader through on how, according to Einstein’s equations that have solutions of negative energy and matter(not the same as anti-matter) and thus allow for faster than light travel, wormholes and warp drives (which have been characteristic of the scifi world for over half a century now) are pathways that can be harnessed by science. Now I know this is getting a little complicated and i am not going to make the claim that I am communicating these ideas as clear as they could be but what I took away from this part of the chapter, was warp drives, like those in Star Trek, powered by concentrated negative matter, can be used to essentially bend space/time and allow humanity to transcend the problem that is the vast distances of space. We know that large objects, such as planets and stars, bend space around them. If the object is overly large, like an enormous red giant star, it will literally rip the fabric of space time around it and a black hole will form. This is how negative energy works, it is the opposite of positive matter which explains the motion of planets and stars. Positive matter falls together and thus there we have gravity. Negative matter has bizzare anti gravitational effects (falls up rather than down) that can cause rips or warps in the fabric of space time. Kaku tells us that negative energy has actually been produced in minuscule amounts in labs like CERN, so while warp drives are hypothetical, negative energy (I.E. Negative matter) is not. A good analogy in how a warp drive would work, is imagine a carpet. Now imagine that instead of walking from end to end on the carpet, you would place your two hands at each end of the carpet and push the carpet together (inward). Suddenly the two ends of the carpet are much closer together and distance between one another has decreased dramatically. That is essentially how a warp drive would work, Kaku explains. Negative energy has the power to rip and pull on space, so in a way, one doesn’t travel to another star system, the star system travels to you! Now is that crazy or what?

 

The point to take away from all this is, for the time being laser sails and later fusion jet rockets are what is most likely going to be taking humanity to the stars for the next hundred-two hundred years. And when I say the stars, I mean the heavenly bodies of our own solar system mostly. I think its safe to say, that based on what we know right now, it is going to be a while before human piloted star ships venture into other solar systems. Eventually we may come up with enough negative energy to harness a warp drive, which is still possible only by principle and hypothetically.

The next part of the book touches on the new science of exoplanets and planet finding. It certainly is astounding the number of planets we have discovered in the last 15 years and even more tantalizing is the strangeness and extreme nature of some of these worlds floating around the stars we see in the sky. Kaku touches on what worlds we may be able to colonize and speculates on when we will discover Earth’s twin. This part of the book fills the reader with wanderlust for all the worlds waiting to be seen and explored.

The last part of the book was probably my least favorite as Kaku touches on time travel, immorality, parallel universes and the multiverse. Personally, I find these topics to go a bit over board for me, as there is just to much speculation and things that I believe are just beyond human comprehension. These topics touch on things that I think are beyond science’s ability to discover and explain in a way that is helpful and beneficial to humanity.

Overall, Kaku’s “Future of Humanity,” is a fascinating read and must for explorers who are curious about the future of space exploration and the mind blowing technologies that could take us there. Michio Kaku will continue to be a well respected and reputable physicist and thinker of our age.

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