IN HIS book “Physics of the Future”, internationally acclaimed physicist Dr Michio Kaku predicts the inventions that will transform our lives through the 21st century. His predictions are based on his interviews with top scientists of the world and observations made while visiting some of the famed laboratories around the world where prototypes of these inventions are being initiated and tested.
Dr Kaku elaborates on the future of technological progresses and possibilities on eight fronts: the computer, AI (artificial intelligence), medicine, nanotechnology, energy, space travel, wealth and humanity. On each front, he lays out the many potential inventions and innovations in three phases: the near future (present to 2030), mid-century (2030 to 2070) and far future (2070 to 2100).
All the predicted inventions and innovations are within the presently known laws of physics. The predictions are the “product not of wild speculation but are reasoned estimates of when the prototypes technologies of today will finally reach maturity”.
In a nutshell, many exciting inventions and innovations will unfold gradually through this century. Let’s peruse some of Dr Kaku’s findings.
Electronic chips, the basic unit of all computerisation, technologies and robotics, will be ubiquitous, miniature in size, yet all powerful and incredibly cheap. Wall screens will, by option, replace desktop and laptop screens. Robots are big business. Every task that is dangerous, repetitive or requires only the simplest human interaction will be duplicated by robots.
Many gadgets, robots in particular, can be telepathically controlled. Contact lenses connect you to the Internet, and you see the Internet as it shines onto the retina of your eye. Hidden DNA and protein sensors at home analyse the molecules you emit in your breath and bodily fluids, checking for the slightest hint of any disease at the molecular level. MRI scanners come in the size of a handphone and with some training, you can do your own scanning and have the results instantly computer analysed.
Diseases and sicknesses will be efficiently and more effectively tackled at the molecular level. Stem cell development will see the availability of tissues and organs on demand. Scary it may appear but it is possible and allowable to order genes from a list of government-approved genes so that certain characteristics or traits of your offspring can be predetermined.
Along with 3-D creations, programmable materials become available. An example quoted is kitchen counters and living room furniture. You can download and install the blueprints of a different design or shape. Instantly, the kitchen counter top, living room sofa, and table begin to dissolve, turn into something that look like putty, and then gradually re-form into the new shapes. Also, with intelligent wallpaper, the pattern and colour of the wallpaper can be changed instantly.
Magnetic cars and other vehicles will float on a cushion of magnetism created by the super conducting pavement. People can attend a meeting “in person” holographically. Space elevators that can take you up to about 100 miles from the surface of the earth are open to layman tourists. You can be in space and will have a dazzling sight of the planet you live in that you have never seen before.
Though many of us reading this may not be around after the mid century, that is 2050, to witness this exciting scenario, our children and their children will live to have that experience. As parents, guardians and or educators, it is our responsibility and concern to see to it that our education system prepares our younger generations well for this exciting and challenging future.
Firstly, we must emphasise and commit our young people to the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects and courses while they are in school and college/university. A solid grounding in STEM knowledge and skills is essential. Our future generations must not only be consumers of new STEM creations but also be participants in their creations.
Secondly, while knowledge and skills of STEM can be accessed and learned online, it is human ingenious imagination or creativity that brings about new creations. So, along with the science, creative art is important. Students today should be trained to think critically and creatively.
Higher order thinking skills and thinking out-of-the-box are to be inculcated. In addition, deductive and inductive reasoning must be taught and practised. Our young people must be multi-disciplined and capable of multi-tasking.
Thirdly, they need to master English, the global lingua franca, to facilitate their learning especially in STEM subjects and courses. Hesitate and delay no more. The world and the future are not going to slow down and wait for us to catch up.
Fourthly, there should also be emphasis on character building. Thus, the importance of moral studies and religious education should never be neglected. Both family and school have to play their part in this. Dr Kaku concludes his book by quoting Mahatma Gandhi, “The roots of Violence:...Knowledge without character...Science without humanity...”.
LIONG KAM CHONG