I once saw a movie that forever changed my attitude toward the future. It was called Forbidden Planet, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. In the movie astronauts encounter an ancient civilization that, in its glory, was millions of years ahead of us. They had attained the ultimate goal of their technology: infinite power without instrumentality, that is, the power to do almost anything via their minds. Their thoughts tapped into colossal thermonuclear power plants, buried deep inside their planet, that converted their every desire into reality. In other words, they had the power of the gods.
We will have a similar power, but we will not have to wait millions of years. We will have to wait only a century, and we can see the seeds of this future even in today's technology. But the movie was also a morality tale, since this divine power eventually overwhelmed this civilization.
Of course, science is a double-edged sword; it creates as many problems as it solves, but always on a higher level. There are two competing trends in the world today: one is to create a planetary civilization that is tolerant, scientific, and prosperous, but the other glorifies anarchy and ignorance that could rip the fabric of our society. We still have the same sectarian, fundamentalist, irrational passions of our ancestors, but the difference is that now we have nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
In the future, we will make the transition from being passive observers of the dance of nature, to being the choreographers of nature, to being masters of nature, and finally to being conservators of nature. So let us hope that we can wield the sword of science with wisdom and equanimity, taming the barbarism of our ancient past.
Let us now embark upon a hypothetical journey through the next 100 years of scientific innovation and discovery, as told to me by the scientists who are making it happen. It will be a wild ride through the rapid advances in computers, telecommunications, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology. It will undoubtedly change nothing less than the future of civilization.
Excerpted from Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku Copyright © 2011 by Michio Kaku. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Read an interview with Michio Kaku.