Here are some remarkable speculations about how the scientific and technological revolution will transform life and society in the 21st century.

27 Jun

Just before Sir Isaac Newton died, he described how humbled he felt by the thought that he had glimpsed only a fraction of the potential of the great scientific revolution he had helped to launch: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Three centuries later, that great ocean of truth is not so mysterious. According to the theoretical physicist Professor Michio Kaku of the City College of New York, we are entering an empowered new era:

“We have unlocked the secrets of matter. We have unravelled the molecule of life, DNA. And we have created a form of artificial intelligence, the computer. We are making the historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery in which we will be able to manipulate and mould nature almost to our wishes.”


Among the technologies he believes will change our lives in the coming decades are cars that drive themselves, lab-grown human organs, 3D television, robots that can perform household tasks, eye glasses that double as home-entertainment centres, the exploitation of genes that alter human ageing and the possibility of invisibility and forms of teleportation.

“We will have the power to animate the inanimate, the power to create life itself,” says Prof Kaku. “We will have the power of gods. But will we also have the wisdom of Solomon?”

In a new BBC4 series called Visions of the Future, Prof Kaku talks to today’s pioneers about how we are moving from being passive observers of nature to its choreographers. Here are their remarkable speculations about how the scientific and technological revolution will transform life and society in the 21st century.



Prof Anton Zeilinger, University of Vienna


“We achieved quantum teleportation 10 years ago, and we’re using it on a regular basis on the information carried by a system. This information is teleported over to another system, which assumes exactly that information; therefore it becomes identical with the original.

“If you dream about teleportation of humans – well, we can dream – then all kinds of questions arise, such as: what does it mean to be me? When someone teleports me and I know that what is being teleported is information – not matter, not the stuff I’m made of – who is it that ends up over there?”

The next generation of nuclear power

 Prof Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith Director, UK Fusion Programme

“Between 15 and 20 years from now, we will be ready to start building a fusion power station that will produce electricity [from nuclear fusion, rather than fission, the reaction that drives existing nuclear power stations]. After that, before the middle of the century, we hope to have large-scale fusion power.”

Electricity from Plant life

Dr Andreas Mershin, Centre for Biomedical Engineering, MIT


“Plants have developed this amazing ability to capture sunlight and create chemical energy and store it. Now we can grab the machine – the protein inside the plant called photosystem, which is responsible for generating energy for the plant – and hijack its function to create solar electrical power. Our goal is to provide an alternative to regular silicon-based solar panels. What we’re trying to do is produce a material that you can paint on a metallic surface, expose to light and have some electricity.”

Nanobot armies

 Dr John Alexander, US Joint Special Operations University

“On the battlefield, nanobots are going to do a lot of things; they can seek and destroy specific targets, for instance. You’ve heard about the ‘surgeons’ that you can inject into your bloodstream – well, they can go in there to repair a clogged blood vessel, or they might be able to go in and punch holes in the blood vessels to destroy an adversary. The embryonic stages are here today, and a lot of work is being done.”

Unbeatable weapons

 Dr Nick Bostrom, Oxford University

“With an advanced form of nanotechnology, it would be possible to build different kinds of weapons systems for which it’s very difficult to see how an effective defence would be possible. In my view, the advanced form of nanotechnology is arguably the greatest existential risk humanity is likely to confront in this century.”



A disease-free world

Ray Kurzweil, inventor and futurist


“We will have the means, within 10 or 15 years, to reprogram biology away from cancer, away from heart disease, to really overcome the major diseases that kill us. We’re in the early stages of that now, but our ability to do this is growing exponentially – it’s doubling every year.”

An end to ageing

 Prof Leonard Hayflick, University of California, San Francisco

“Our conscious recognition of the finitude of our lives is key to how we live. Virtually every aspect of our lives is governed by our sense of self and our sense of when we will age, and, of course, when we will die. One really has to think seriously about tampering with the ageing process and what its implications might be.”

Perfecting the human body

 Prof Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution

“I don’t think we should worry so much about whether we want to live for hundreds of years, but why we would want to. We need a public debate on exactly why we want our children to be perfect and whether that would actually be giving them a happier and more fulfilling life. One end of the spectrum is that of course we don’t want them to be obese or clinically depressed. On the other hand, I would hope that people would want their children to be diverse and interesting and interested in others, rather than everyone the same and everyone perfect.”

Control over human evolution

 Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution

“For the first time, our technologies are not so much aimed outward at modifying our environment in the fashion of agriculture or space travel; increasingly, technologies are aimed inward, at modifying our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities and our kids. And this is not in some distant, science-fiction future – this is now. What’s shocking about this is that if you can do all that, you’re talking about humans becoming the first species to take control of their own evolution.”

Genetically modified genes

 Prof David Farb, Boston University, Massachusetts

“Memory enhancement is certainly within the realm of scientific possibility. And we may be able to alter not just our intellectual but also our physical abilities. If we could pass down these genetically enhanced genes, we could evolve in a different way. We can’t afford not to think about this issue and not to be prepared.”

Retuning the brain

 Dr Francis Collins, US National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda

“Suppose we develop – by our understanding of how the genome works and therefore how the body works – an approach that would improve memory; what’s wrong with that? Well, it raises the question of who decides what’s an improvement, and is that something that is going to be available to all or will it be another example of separating between people who have resources and people who don’t?”




The virtual family


 Jaron Lanier, virtual-reality pioneer

“One notion is that virtual-reality interfaces might simply be integrated into the human body. We could have a display built into any of a number of layers within the eye, or into the optic track – or, indeed, into the brain itself.

“But these possibilities raise disturbing questions. What happens if we assume so many different identities that we begin to lose our own sense of identity? What happens if we begin to prefer virtual social networks to our real social networks? And will the family suffer if we spend more time with our virtual family than our real one?”

Biological robots


“As a species, we are starting to put our information-processing technology inside our bodies – we’re becoming a little more robotic. At the same time, our technologies are becoming more biological. Over the next 50 years, we’ll see robots with more biological components and people with more electronic components.

Superhuman machinery


Paul Saffo, technology forecaster, Stanford University


“There’s a good chance that the machines will be smarter than us. There are two scenarios. The optimistic one is that these new superhuman machines are very gentle and they treat us like pets. The pessimistic scenario is they’re not very gentle and they treat us like food.”

Artificial intelligence


Eliezer Yudkowsky, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, California


“We have a choice in how we create artificial intelligence. And you’ve got to be very sure that a created mind is never going to want to self-improve and that it’s never going to want to do anything that destroys intelligent life. You’ve got to treat that gun as if it’s loaded.”

A leading theoretical physicist has tapped the best scientific brains of the age to provide a startling vision of the future.

By Roger Highfield
The Telegraph
Prof Rodney Brooks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Posted by on June 27, 2012 in WISDOM


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