Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Nine

Our final chapter illustrates a fictitious day in the life of someone in 2100.  Much of this resembles our impressions of television’s memorable cartoon show, “The Jetsons.” 

Discuss the technology/physics behind the scenes in each section:

- JANUARY, 2100, 6:15 A.M.







Kaku closes with this scenario:

“And then you take out an old, worn book from your back pocket, and read to her the words of someone who died more than 100 years ago. It reminds you of the challenges facing humanity before it attains a planetary civilization. Mahatma Gandhi once wrote:

The Roots of Violence:
Wealth without work,
Pleasure without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Commerce without morality,
Science without humanity,
Worship without sacrifice,
Politics without principles.”

- How will the Bible be read and applied in the year 2100?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Eight

1.  Kaku introduces our chapter with this thesis: “All the technological revolutions described here are leading to a single point: the creation of a planetary civilization. This transition is perhaps the greatest in human history. In fact, the people living today are the most important ever to walk the surface of the planet, since they will determine whether we attain this goal or descend into chaos.”

- What would this planetary civilization consist of, structurally? 
- What pieces (political, financial, etc.) would need to be in place to achieve this broad, encompassing status?

2.  Kaku notes that we are about 100 years away from achieving Type I status as a civilization. 

- Review and discuss the signs of this emerging transition:
•   The Internet is the beginning of a Type I planetary telephone system.
•   A handful of languages, led by English, followed by Chinese, are rapidly emerging as the future Type I language.
•   We are witnessing the birth of a planetary economy.
•   We are seeing the rise of a planetary middle class.
•   The economy, not weapons, is the new criterion for a superpower.
•   A planetary culture is emerging, based on youth culture (rock and roll and youth fashion), movies (Hollywood blockbusters), high fashion (luxury goods), food (mass-market fast-food chains).
•   The news is becoming planetary.
•   Sports, which in the past were essential in forging a tribal and then a national identity, are now forging a planetary identity.
•   Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet.
•   Likewise, the falling price of intercontinental travel is accelerating contact between diverse peoples, making wars more difficult to wage and spreading the ideals of democracy.
•   The nature of war itself is changing to reflect this new reality.
•   Nations will weaken but will still exist in 2100.
•   Diseases will be controlled on a planetary basis.

3.  “There are groups, however, that instinctively resist the trend toward a Type I planetary civilization, because they know that it is progressive, free, scientific, prosperous, and educated”…including Islamic terrorists and dictators, to name a few.

- Who else might be included on this list today?

4.  A Type II civilization will probably be at peace with itself. Since space travel is so difficult, it will have remained a Type I civilization for centuries, plenty of time to iron out the divisions within their society. By the time a Type I civilization reaches Type II status, they will have colonized not just their entire solar system but also the nearby stars. By the time a civilization reaches Type III status, it will have explored most of the galaxy. The most convenient way to visit the hundreds of billions of planets is to send self-replicating robot probes throughout the galaxy.

- Why are these transitions so difficult for us to fathom?

5.  Kaku describes the resurgent efforts of SETI.  “It is conceivable that we may, within this century, detect signals from an intelligent civilization in space.  We have to introduce two new types of civilizations. The first is an ‘entropy conserving’ civilization, one that uses every means at its disposal to control excess waste and heat.  The second civilization, an ‘entropy wasteful’ civilization, continues to expand its energy consumption without limit.”

- How might awareness of entropy affect our attitudes & actions?

6.  “The transition between our current Type 0 civilization and a future Type I civilization is perhaps the greatest transition in history. It will determine whether we will continue to thrive and flourish, or perish due to our own folly. This transition is extremely dangerous because we still have all the barbaric savagery that typified our painful rise from the swamp. Peel back the veneer of civilization, and we still see the forces of fundamentalism, sectarianism, racism, intolerance, etc., at work. Human nature has not changed much in the past 100,000 years, except now we have nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to settle old scores. However, once we make the transition to a Type I civilization, we will have many centuries to settle our differences.”

- How might the Christian Church lead the way?

7.  “So the true power of science is that it enables us and empowers us—giving us more options. Science magnifies the innovative, creative, and enduring spirit of humanity, as well as our glaring deficiencies. The key, therefore, is to find the wisdom necessary to wield this sword of science. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.” In my opinion, wisdom is the ability to identify the crucial issues of our time, analyze them from many different points of view and perspectives, and then choose the one that carries out some noble goal and principle.”

- If all wisdom comes from God, as persons of faith confess, what role might Biblical wisdom play in guiding our future?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Seven

1.  Kaku begins by noting, “Soon, the rise of science and technology in Europe began to weaken the power of China and the Ottoman Empire.  The answer to the question “What happened?” is clear. Science and technology happened. Science and technology are the engines of prosperity. Of course, one is free to ignore science and technology, but only at your peril. The world does not stand still because you are reading a religious text. If you do not master the latest in science and technology, then your competitors will.

- How has the Church fared in the midst of such historic upheaval?
- What have we learned from our bumps & bruises along the way?

2.  In the near future (present to 2030), Kaku notes, “So the evolution of computers is not a mystery; it is following the well-worn path of its predecessors, like electricity, paper, and running water. But the computer and the Internet are still evolving. Economist John Steele Gordon was asked if this revolution is over. ‘Heavens, no. It will be a hundred years before it fully plays out, just like the steam engine. We are now at the point with the Internet that they were with the railroad in 1850. It’s just the beginning.’”

- How might this evolution affect our personal & profession lives?

3.  “Thomas Friedman writes, ‘The early 21st century saw a boom, bubble and now a bust around financial services. But I fear all it will leave behind are a bunch of empty Florida condos that never should have been built, used private jets that the wealthy can no longer afford and the dead derivative contracts that no one can understand.’ But in spite of all the silliness that accompanied the recent crash, the irony here is that the wiring and networking of the world will take place after the crash of 2008. The heyday of the information revolution is yet to come.”

- What are the grounds for Kaku’s optimism here?

4.  By midcentury (2030 to 2070), “as technologies evolve, they create abrupt changes in the economy that sometimes lead to social dislocations. In any revolution, there are winners and losers. This will become more evident by midcentury. We no longer have blacksmiths and wagon makers in every village. Moreover, we do not mourn the passing of many of these jobs. But the question is: What jobs will flourish by midcentury? How will the evolution of technology change the way we work?”

- How does Kaku respond to these two questions?  Do you agree?

5.  “This also means that entire industries, such as entertainment, are undergoing a profound upheaval.”

- How will we evolve as consumers of entertainment?

6.  By the far future (2070 to 2100), Kaku predicts, “These new technologies that we have been discussing in this book are so powerful that, by the end of the century, they are bound to have an impact on capitalism itself.” These include: perfect capitalism; mass production to mass customization; mass technology as utility; and targeting your customer.

- How will each of these changes affect our economy?

7.  So far, we have asked only how technology is altering the way capitalism operates. But with all the turmoil created by the advances in high technology, what impact is this having on the nature of capitalism itself? All the turmoil that this revolution is creating can be summarized in one concept: the transition from commodity capitalism to intellectual capitalism. What is replacing commodity capitalism is intellectual capitalism. Intellectual capital involves precisely what robots and AI cannot yet provide, pattern recognition and common sense.

- How will this shift impact jobs?
- How will we prepare tomorrow’s leaders?
- How will the nations of the world share intellectual resources?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Six

1.  Hollywood television and movies make space travel look so easy.  Who knew it was really so complicated?  In the near term (present to 2030), Kaku discusses the current state of affairs with our space program.  While advancements are meager, at best, there is small progress on the horizon. 

- What are the main challenges to locating and identifying other “earth-like” planets? 
- What is the “Goldilocks Zone?”  Why is Europa different?

2.  “While robotic missions will continue to open new vistas for space exploration, the manned missions will face much greater hurdles. This is because, compared to manned missions, robotic missions are cheap and versatile; can explore dangerous environments; don’t require costly life support; and most important, don’t have to come back.”

- What are the primary obstacles to manned space missions?
- What roles have politics and funding played in recent decisions?
3.  Kaku acknowledges, “The task of establishing a permanent presence on the moon faces many obstacles.”

- What are some of these obstacles?

4.  By midcentury (2030 to 2070), a mission to Mars may be in progress.  Yet, the challenges are numerous.

- Specifically, how do concerns about water and atmosphere affect potential trips to Mars?

5.  Kaku notes that by midcentury, we might have opportunity to engage in space travel via tourism (and lots of $$$).

- What’s our progress with space tourism so far?

 6.  Kaku notes that in the far future (2070 to 2100), “nanotechnology might even make possible the fabled space elevator. Like Jack and the beanstalk, we might be able to climb into the clouds and beyond. We would enter an elevator, push the up button, and then ascend along a carbon nanotube fiber that is thousands of miles long. This could turn the economics of space travel upside down.”

- All elevator jokes aside, why is this such a difficult project?

7.  “By the end of the century, even despite recent setbacks in funding for manned space missions, scientists will likely have set up outposts on Mars and perhaps in the asteroid belt. Next, they will set their sights on an actual star. Although an interstellar probe is hopelessly beyond reach today, within 100 years it might become a reality. The first challenge is to find a new propulsion system. Several designs and propulsions systems have been proposed for an interstellar craft:

“Solar sail, nuclear rocket, ramjet fusion, and nanoships.” 

- Discuss the mechanics of each.

8.  Kaku concludes, “Given the fact that earth will be the home of humanity for centuries to come, this raises another question:

- How will civilization itself evolve?
- How will science affect our lifestyle, our jobs, and our society?
- Science is the engine of prosperity, so how will it reshape civilization and wealth in the future?

- Your thoughts on these?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Five

1.  Kaku notes that, “Today our planet is thoroughly wedded to fossil fuels in the form of oil, natural gas, and coal. Altogether, the world consumes about 14 trillion watts of power, of which 33 percent comes from oil, 25 percent from coal, 20 percent from gas, 7 percent from nuclear, 15 percent from biomass and hydroelectric, and a paltry .5 percent from solar and renewables.”

- What are the challenges of living with this current arrangement?

2.  In the near future (present to 2030), Kaku points to a mix of energy sources.  Briefly discuss the pros and cons of each:
            - Wind power
            - Solar Cells
            - Electric cars
            - Nuclear fission         
3.  By midcentury (2030 to 2070), “the full impact of a fossil fuel economy should be in full swing: global warming.”

What are the challenges to reducing greenhouse gases and avoiding global flooding?  Who will take responsibility for these?

4. Various approaches to fusion power have been introduced.  Again, briefly discuss the pros and cons of each:  
           - Hot fusion
           - NIF – Fusion by laser
           - ITER – Fusion in a magnetic field
           - Tabletop fusion

5.  In the far future (2070 to 2100), “room temperature superconductors could produce supermagnets capable of lifting trains and cars so they hover above the ground.”

- How would such technology revolutionize our economy and our culture?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Four

1.  Kaku begins this chapter on nanotechnology by discussing the quantum world.  He raises an interesting question, to which he responds:  “So why can’t we pass through solid objects like ghosts? The answer resides in a curious quantum phenomenon. The Pauli exclusion principle states that no two electrons can exist in the same quantum state. Hence when two nearly identical electrons get too close, they repel each other. This is the reason objects appear to be solid, which is an illusion.

The reality is that matter is basically empty. When we sit in a chair, we think we are touching it. Actually, we are hovering above the chair, floating less than a nanometer above it, repelled by the chair’s electrical and quantum forces. This means that whenever we “touch” something, we are not making direct contact at all but are separated by these tiny atomic forces.”

- How does this explanation shape our understanding of matter and our interaction with matter? 

2.  In the near term (present to 2030), nanomachines will infiltrate our bodies, capable of zapping cancer cells.  Nano cars (Honda?) will navigate our bloodstream, and DNA chips will constantly monitor our health and detect diseases. 

- How will such technology help save lives and costs?

3.  With Moore’s Law just around the corner, Kaku points toward a post-silicon era. 

- How might atomic transistors (e.g., graphene) and quantum computers at the atomic scale provide needed breakthroughs?

4. By midcentury (2030 to 2070), Kaku predicts that shape-shifting will be commonplace…allowing powerful computer programs to alter and re-shape material objects to fit changing needs and wants.

- What are potential pros and cons to such abilities?

5.  In the far future (2070 to 2100), Kaku states that “advocates of nanotechnology envision an even more powerful machine: a molecular assembler, or ‘replicator,’ capable of creating anything.” 

- What are some of the challenges to this technology?

- What might the social impact of replicators look like?

- What would we do with our time?

- Would society be happier or better off?

- How would society differentiate between material wealth and spiritual need?

- Would people continue to turn to God and pray?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Three

1.  In the near term (present to 2030), genomic medicine will escalate.  Advancements in stem cell technology, cloning, and gene therapy will provide aids in fighting diseases and extending human life.  Cancer will remain a formidable foe in these efforts. 

-  While most of this discussion is new to us, what challenges do you anticipate from such controversial approaches?  
- Are there any peculiar ethical issues that come to mind?

2.  Kaku notes that in the midcentury (2030 to 2070), we can anticipate gene therapy, designer children, and the Mighty Mouse gene.  But the biotech revolution is not without side effects.

- What is the hidden Achilles’ heel to such technology and what type of regulation would be needed?

3.  In the far future (2070 to 2100), aging moves center stage. 

- Is there a fountain of youth? 
- Will it be possible to avoid death? 
- Can our planet sustain the growing world population? 
- Can extinct life-forms be resurrected? 
- What would we do with a new brand of Neanderthals? 
- Wouldn’t you love to see a Mammoth or a real Jurassic Park?

4. Kaku asks: “Can we create life according to our wishes? Is it possible to create not just long-extinct animals but also animals that have never existed before?”

- What are the theological ramifications of such lofty attempts?