January INP Post #1: At Last, a Trustworthy Account of the Future!

I have stumbled upon my favorite book so far in 2016. Granted, it’s only been 15 days, but I have already zipped through 5 of them due to extreme boredom dished out by outrageously unpredictable bus and flight schedules. On the day I “discovered” this book, I was sitting in Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, painfully counting by the hours the plane I was taking back to Hong Kong was delayed for. I had finished the books – yes, books – I was carrying in my backpack, and none of them seemed to strike a chord in me. Wanting to experience books about math for the first time, I packed my bag chock full of books about trigonometry and calculus, and began to regret my decision three pages into the first one. Although I enjoyed nonfictional novels, these books set a new standard for boring. Page after page of dense equations and formulas filled the thick volumes, all of them stating how to tackle complex problems of math, but never why that method worked. I was the type of person who only appreciated how to do something only after I knew why it worked, so these books left me flipping through all their pages looking for a description of the formulas mentioned and deeply disappointing me. This is the reason why I am not writing a reflection on those books. Not only do they present ideas that is impossible for unique interpretation and thought, they also bored me to a point where I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of their sockets.

As fate would have it, my flight back to Hong Kong was delayed for 4 hours, and coincidentally my phone ran out of battery, with my charger buried in a suitcase that was making its way into the cargo hold of the plane. I would have accepted this situation if I had a juicy book I can bury myself into, but I only had thick volumes of facts as dry as the paper they were printed on. Since I had no other choice, I investigated the world of trigonometry, and then calculus, and then statistics, and then algebra. That took up only two hours, so I desperately needed entertainment for the following two. The airport television silently broadcasting Chinese opera was not helping, so I decided to pay a visit to the airport café. However, on the way there, a newly-opened book store caught my attention. Wanting to see if it was any good, I strode in, and made a beeline for the English section.

The English section had about fifty books on the shelf, most about Chinese development and politics. However, one of the books in the corner stood out to me: “Physics of the Future” by Michio Kaku. The title instantly intrigued me, so I purchased it and made it back to the gate, completely forgetting about my café visit.

With still an hour and a half left to boarding time, I plopped myself down in the hard airport seat and started reading. I was reading when the arpeggio announcing boarding came on through the airport intercom system. I was reading when the plane took off. I was reading when the plane landed two hours later. I finished the last pages in the taxi home. In other words, the book had me completely hooked.

There aren’t many books that are able to hold my attention for hours on end like this book did. So what made this book special?

For one, the topic this book focused on was one of great interest for me: future technology and the tangible physics behind it. Descriptions of internet contact lenses, printable furniture, sophisticated robots, and space elevators all captured my attention. However, I had read books about future technology before, and was not as impressed by them as I was after reading this one. This was because Michio Kaku was the first to base descriptions of future technology on current technology and rate of enhancement, thus making all the ideas illustrated in this book tangible. It was simply a relief to read a book about a topic I loved that was trustworthy, not written by fanciful science fiction fans. Michio Kaku, during the course of writing this book, personally visited several laboratories developing groundbreaking technologies that will be the first generation of sophisticated tech gadgets we all dream of. Furthermore, he also interviewed the world’s top 100 scientists, gathering their views on what the next century in technology will look like. Assembling all the information gathered, we have a holy grail of future technological advancement description.

This book provided easy-to-follow analyses of how the scientists’ answers and current technology illustrated future technology. For example, in the description about the mouth-watering potential of internet contact lenses, Michio Kaku draws upon current prototypes and uses the opinion of the top scientist heading research to convey the everyday applications of this technology, and a reasonable date to expect it being integrated into common everyday life. The entire book was a host of logical analyses, and it made me feel extremely optimistic about the future. According to the book, my generation is supposedly the first that will be able to genetically engineer our children to prevent diseases, along with the first to see a space elevator, driverless car networks, a shift from fossil fuels to green sources as energy, and many, many more technological advancements that seem like science fiction in today’s world.

Finally, this book ended on a strong note, writing a short story set in the year 2100 incorporating all the technologies mentioned in the book. Michio Kaku seamlessly weaved the technologies into the everyday life of the average Joe, while making the story an enjoyable read. That was something I found interesting, and also something I never contacted before in any other book about technology I read previously.

In conclusion, this book stole my attention for a full 4 and a half hours, and gave me a highly enjoyable and tangible account on technology I would most likely see in my lifetime. Now I can’t wait until the year 2030, when the omni-directional treadmill, paired with the third generation of Oculus Rift, will make video gaming an awe-inspiring experience. After all, visualise this: with this technology, the game Call of Duty will require you to physically run through the battlefield on the treadmill, with your kneeling, neck rotations, and lying down all affecting how the image is broadcasted into your eyes by two small beads in a contact lense worn in both eyes. In other words, it will seem like you are actually on the battlefield, holding a real gun and dodging real bullets. Oh boy!