The Future of Humanity, (2019) Michio Kaku, Penguin, pbk, £9.99, 339 + 18 pp, ISBN 978-0-141-98606-7.
(First published in Concatenation, online, 15th September, 2019.)
Although the subtitle of this book promises ‘Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny beyond Earth’,page 13 issues something of a warning note. “To do this, we will have to exploit the fourth wave of science, which consists of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotechnology’. It is probably fair to say that if those aren’t Michio Kaku’s favourite subjects, they are perhaps the ones he feels most at home with. It was maybe unfortunate that I received this book for review immediately after reading his Physics of the Impossible (Penguin, 2009). Subtitled ‘A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel’, the earlier book is mainly an attempt to rationalise the background to Star Trek in more detail than Lawrence M. Krauss’s The Physics of Star Trek (1995). And despite the 10-year gap, the sections on ‘artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotechnology’ are so similar that I kept having to check back through the new book to make sure I hadn’t already read them, and then check the previous book to see that the wording was actually different.
In 1983 I published a book called Man and the Planets, the Resources of the Solar System (Fig. 2). It was the result of a group discussion project which looked at the possibilities for all objects in the System over 1000 km in diameter, and quite a few of the smaller ones, while comparing and contrasting the technologies which might be used to reach them and make use of them, applying (with permission) the terminology and reasoning of Prof. Krafft Ehricke’s ‘strategic approach to the Solar System’. It ended with a chapter on ‘The Philosophy of a Kardashev 2 Civilisation’ (controlling the resources of a planetary system), which the late Slovenian editor Samo Resnik selected for independent publication there. Having done that all those years ago, it’s disappointing to find Prof. Kaku writing, for example, “space elevators would revolutionize our access to outer space”, without considering their limitations, or alternative versions of the idea, or where in the Solar System they might be used to best advantage (Fig. 3).
Within the Solar System, his general discussion is limited to Mars, the moons of the gas giants, and the Oort Cloud of comets, with only Europa, Titan and Triton considered individually, and even there, listing what’s known about them rather than discussing future possibilities. It may be significant that Chapter 6 is the only section of the book where I found any factual errors – only a couple of them, but about things which have been known for years or even decades. It feels as if it’s with relief that Prof. Kaku moves on to robotics, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, all of which are treated at similar length in the previous book, and in Chapter 7, just as here.
We’re still only at the midpoint of this book, however, and from there on there’s new ground as the discussion moves to interstellar travel. The propulsion systems considered, from the solar sail (Fig. 4) to the Alcubierrre Drive (Fig. 5), are still the same as in Physics of the Impossible, to say nothing of Prof. Kaku’s previous book Hyperspace. But the range of possible targets has enormously increased with the ever-increasing discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, and even moving freely in interstellar space. Again, though, the discussion is limited to ‘conventional’ starships and to planets as destinations, and even then gives very little thought to what we do when we get there. Prof. Gerard O’Neill’s alternative ideas (Fig. 6) get no mention and Freeman Dyson’s don’t get much (Fig. 7) (‘The Fermi Paradox, Part 2, ON May 1st, 2022).
But there is some fascinating thought about what might happen when a new wave of technology on Earth, enabling instantaneous communication and travel (Fig. 8), allows a new interstellar Diaspora to overtake the old one, on the way to Kardashev III status (controlling the resources of a galaxy). From there Prof. Kaku goes on to consider whether a Kardashev IV civilisation is possible and what it might achieve, in chapters which bear comparison with, and even extend past, the closing ones of Arthur C. Clarke’s Profiles of the Future, (Fig. 9), which ended by looking trillions of years into the future when only red dwarf stars will still be shining.
Those chapters are the best part of the book, in my view, and make interesting comparison with similar thoughts recently put forward by Eamonn Ansbro of the Kingsland Observatory, in a paper offered to the SETI Committee of the International Astronautical Federation in 2018. There’s a great deal more to be said on all the above topics (review, ‘The Crowd and the Cosmos’, ON 29th January 2023), and what I would suggest to anyone who isn’t already up to speed on them, would be to skip Prof. Kaku’s previous books and follow the old injunction, ‘New Readers Start Here’.
Astronomers of the Future Club – September 2018 Meeting Report
by Duncan Lunan
On Thursday September 27th 2018, at the Troon meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club, the speaker was Eamonn Ansbro of the Kingsland Observatory in County Roscommon, Eire, talking about ‘Quantum Communication’, the possibility of faster-than-light communication with other civilisations. The talk has been offered to the SETI Conference of the International Astronautical Federation, and the AOTF Club were the first to hear it.
Eamonn began with an account of the Kingsland Observatory, whose first telescope was created in 2000 by the late John Braithwaite, the last telescope maker in Scotland. Currently the Observatory is commissioning a new site in Spain, with a robotic telescope which will be remotely accessible by schools and colleges as well as to researchers.
On his main theme he distinguished between SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), CETI (Communication with ETI), and Active SETI, which aims to do both. With the growing number of exoplanets being discovered orbiting other stars, he argued that a new search strategy was needed which hopefully would encompass more ET civilisations than the search for signals from individual stars. At present optical searches are being made by the Lick Observatory in the USA, and radio searches at a number of sites including Parkes in Australia, FAST in China, Arecibo in Puerto Rico and Green Bank in the USA. A more advanced strategy would assume that extraterrestrial civilisation develop co-evolution and sociology in a network of cooperative cultures, actively exploring to find others. If they engage in interstellar travel, civilisations 7000 years ahead of us might be Slow Travellers, up to and including those moving whole solar systems; at 10,000 years beyond us there would be Fast Travellers, nomadic, using hyperspace; and 1 million years ahead, they could be Transuniversalists, using very advanced technology such as wormholes and zero point energy not just to travel within our Universe but to access others and alternative dimensions within them. On that timescale, even Slow Travellers could be using faster-than-light Quantum Superluminal Communication, so there would be a high possible detection rate for other civilisations if it could be achieved.
After developing these arguments in more detail, Eamonn turned to the many ways in which first communication might come about. Dr. John Elliott of Leeds Metropolitan University argues that similar brain patterns are found in humans, orang-utans, dolphins, and in music, and they suggest that a universal language interpretation might be possible, also allowing communication with intelligent machines. Where radio SETI exchanges might never advance beyond saying ‘we exist’, QSC would be instantaneous, over any distance, and could allow meaningful relationships. Should we eavesdrop at first? Reply with a ‘holding signal’ to gain time? The new Contact Protocols would have to be much more flexible than the current ones for radio SETI. Not replying risks losing an opportunity for ever, but listening operatives would have to be highly trained and carefully selected, since they would be taking immediate decisions for the sake of all mankind. In Eamonn’s view, the operating principles would automatically select for beings at a level where we could communicate, and for those with benevolent intent, and the possible benefits far outweigh any possible dangers – but we are talking about huge responsibilities, because such events would change the world for ever. Predictably, the talk provoked a lively discussion, which continued at McKay’s Bar after the vote of thanks.
My – very un-scientific – opinion on terraforming…
…and making contact…..
Having different opinions can spark thought and discussion – I’m all for it!