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Into the great beyond – ‘The Future of Humanity’

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Book offers thoughts on mankind’s outer space destiny

Ever since man has understood that there was something beyond the skies, there has been a draw to the beyond. We seek to see what lies past the boundaries above us. It has been the subject of dreams and nightmares, the inspiration to artists and scientists alike.

But now, as our technology continues to advance at an exponential pace, what was once the sole purview of science fiction has instead reached the cusp of scientific fact.

That’s Michio Kaku’s take, anyway. The theoretical physicist and noted author has released a new book – “The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth” (Doubleday, $29.95). In it, Kaku looks ahead to the years to come and what they might mean for humanity’s journey onward … and upward.

We start with a primer on the history of space-related science, beginning with early physical models and the formation of planets before moving on to the pioneers of rocketry through the space race and up to the current state of affairs, including the private efforts of folks like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

From there, Kaku walks us through some of the currently extant plans for returning to the moon and eventually making our way toward Mars; many of these plans are interconnected, with established presences on and near the moon greatly increasing the ease with which we might extend our reach to the Red Planet.

From there, he proposes looking deeper into the solar system, with talk about industrializing space by way of asteroid mining. Jupiter’s moon Europa has long been viewed as a place with potential for human habituation, while the gas giants offer their own possible benefits for a spacefaring civilization.

(While some might already be aware, I’ll confess to being a little stunned by how many of the pieces are in place for some of these ideas to become reality. In a lot of cases, the foundational technology has already been developed. It’s just a question of assembling the puzzle. Well, that and paying for it.)

It’s at this point that Kaku makes the leap from the currently plausible to the theoretical. It’s the next logical step – Part II invites us to “Voyage to the Stars.” Interstellar travel remains far beyond our means, of course, but that doesn’t stop Kaku from offering up some thoughts with regards to what it might take to get us there. And he has plenty – he IS a theoretical physicist, after all. That ability to reach the stars would allow for a truly galactic civilization, one that would allow mankind to make its way out across the cosmos.

In Part III – “Life in the Universe” – Kaku explores some of the fundamental alterations humanity might undergo as it spreads itself across the eons. The extension of the human lifespan is addressed, whether through physical methods such as suspended animation or clones or technological means like the electronic duplication of consciousness, as well as the moral and ethical ramifications of such extensions. Concepts of transhumanism and the idea of what it might mean to become posthuman are also discussed.

And lest we forget, we still have to talk about the aliens. Specifically, what an encounter with an advanced alien civilization might look like – and whether humanity could even survive it – and thoughts on how they may have developed. The Fermi paradox pops up as well, as it so often does in these sorts of conversations.

All that, plus the evolution of our civilization – in terms of how it exists in the universe and how it might splinter in the face of a wide diaspora – and some quick hits regarding wormholes, Planck energy, quantum fuzziness and string theory.

All this might sound intimidating, but it needn’t be. Kaku has a real gift for this kind of popular science; he is able to render complex ideas in a manner that is sophisticated while still feeling accessible. The concepts at work here are big ones, and there’s no denying that some basic scientific knowledge is helpful, but the book as a whole is both entertaining and easily understandable.

It’s worth noting that this book covers a LOT of ground, so not all of these ideas get explored with great depth. It’s more of a primer, touching numerous bases and serving as a sort of high-end introduction to the concepts within. That sense is enhanced by the sense of genuine enthusiasm that permeates the book; Kaku is legitimately passionate about his subject and does an admirable job of conveying that passion to the reader.

“The Future of Humanity” is an entertaining work of pop science, one that blends real ideas with readability in a compelling manner. At the end of the day, when you’re looking through Michio Kaku’s eyes, the future looks bright indeed.


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