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?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

Chapter Two

1.  Michio Kaku introduces the future of artificial intelligence by asking, “Will this usher in the end of humanity?”  He talks about the abilities and limitations of Honda’s robot, ASIMO.  But Kaku points out two major problems with robots: pattern recognition and the lack of common sense. 

- What are the present barriers to achieving these in robots and machines? 

2.  In the near future (present to 2030), introduces the field of “heuristics.”  These are “expert systems, software programs that have encoded in them the wisdom and experience of a human being…following a formal, rule-based system.”  These have given us Google internet search engines and the like.  Kaku believe the greatest application of these advances will be experienced in the various fields of medicine. 

- What were some of his projections and how would you respond to them?

3.  By midcentury (2030 to 2070), we may benefit from tiny modular robots, robot surgeons and cooks, and (oh my!) emotional robots.  

- How might we benefit from this assortment of robots?

4.  Kaku describes the challenges of reverse engineering, modeling, and taking apart the brain. 

- For the sake of review, what are these challenges?

5.  In the far future (2070 to 2100), Kaku anticipates a time when machines exceed us in intelligence, but AI researchers are split on the question of when this might happen.  “A large part of the problem with these scenarios is that there is no universal consensus as to the meaning of the word consciousness.  But if I were to venture a guess, I would theorize that consciousness consists of at least three basic components:

1. Sensing and recognizing the environment
2. Self-awareness
3. Planning for the future by setting goals and plans…
    that is, simulating the future and plotting strategy.”

- What are the roles and the complications of each?

6. Finally, Kaku raises some hypothetical scenarios of when robots exceed humans.  He believes the most likely scenario involves “friendly AI.” 

- What did he mean by this?

7.  “In addition to friendly AI, there is also another option: merging with our creations. Instead of simply waiting for robots to surpass us in intelligence and power, we should try to enhance ourselves, becoming superhuman in the process. Most likely, I believe, the future will proceed with a combination of these two goals, i.e., building friendly AI and also enhancing ourselves.”

- How might this play out?

- In this new world, what would it mean to see ourselves as “created in the image of God?”