Reviewed by: Peter Spasov
Title: The Future of Humanity
Author: Michio Kaku
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Format: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audiobook
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Date: February 2018
Retail Price: $29.95/$32.00/$14.99/$26.95
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is already well known to the public through his bestselling books and social media. His latest book tackles the options for human society thriving beyond our planet, beginning with an interplanetary near future, then on to the entire universe and even beyond. By beyond he refers to the highly speculative concepts of seeding new universes when ours ultimately dies. It is the story of human development as Kaku sees it.
His prologue is possibly the most compelling reason for space settlement I’ve read. It’s a highly descriptive chronology of cataclysmic events of our past and what is going to happen in the future. We’d better have a plan and the capability to avoid these events. Next, he gives an overview of the science and the science fiction pushing us on the path of space travel. There is a brief history of rocketry, primarily mentioning Robert Goddard and how he was often ridiculed. Only in 1969, did the New York Times offer an apology for doubting his credibility when it published an admission that rocket propulsion can indeed function in a vacuum.
A chapter covers mining the asteroids, and other chapters cover the settlement of other planets. It includes some background astronomy for the lay reader and overview of some upcoming missions to the outer solar system such as the Europa Clipper. Next, Kaku delves into peripheral topics of artificial intelligence, self-replicating robots, machines with self-awareness and then on to theories of consciousness plus quantum computing basics. Indeed, he suggests these will be vital components of space travel.
There is the challenge of building the starships required for interstellar settlements. This includes propulsion technology such as laser sails, ion engines and various nuclear rocket options and from there it is on to antimatter drives, ramjet fusion methods, warp drives, wormholes and the Alcubierre drive. One could see this chapter as a lightweight version of Starship Century, a more technical anthology based on the 100-Year Starship Symposium held in 2011.
Laser porting could conceivably offer the opportunity to explore the cosmos as pure-energy beings. Kaku argues that the Human Connectome Project grounds this possibility in science. With a complete map of the human brain it could be possible to beam personalities at light speed to robotic avatars based on exoplanets via a network of relay stations located on “stationary” comets (comets with periods beyond tens of thousands of years). The astute reader may ponder the logistics of establishing the relay stations and host avatars in the first place.
Kaku discusses possible encounters with rogue planets when travelling interstellar space, the ways and means of potential suspended animation, techniques to extend the human lifespan, and more. Then he discusses the possibility of first contact and the fact that there is no protocol yet in place to handle such an event. A section addresses potential characteristics of other intelligent species and possible resolutions to the Fermi paradox: if ETs are out there, why haven’t we heard from them? And if they are monitoring our signals, they would most likely have deciphered our languages ahead of time, thus facilitating communications should it ever occur.
The possible nature of extraterrestrial civilizations is the subject of another chapter. A common classification method is the Kardashev scale based on energy consumption levels. Kaku boldly suggests a Type IV civilization in which the culture utilizes the energy of the entire universe. From here, he paints a picture of possible human evolution in the context of string theory, dark energy/matter and hyperspace. Ultimately, he suggests, an advanced version of humanity could escape the death of our universe by birthing a new one.
Although the breadth of topics covered is wide, there are a few omissions. He never mentions O’Neill cylinders or similar orbital habitations. And he could have covered more about the probable near-future systems of a spacefaring society, such as space elevators, next generation launch systems, space-based manufacturing, and space solar energy. Also, a section to explicitly tackle the launch economics of overcoming Earth’s gravity well would have been useful.
This is a book definitely written for a wider public with a sensationalist twist. Its purpose is to spark optimism into what is possible. Kaku certainly dares to dream big. Often, the language is striking and captivating, for example: the phenomenon of “spaghettification” when traveling through a wormhole. There are continuous references to writers of science fiction as the visionaries who point the way, such as Asimov’s Foundation series, Stapledon’s Star Maker and Kip Thorne’s Science of Interstellar. Although much will be familiar to those who follow space technology, the book is an entertaining read to promote the why and how of our journey to the stars—and beyond.
© 2018 Peter Spasov
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