John Mitchell

The robots are coming

John Michell on Michio Kaku's new book

If you think that you or anyone else knows anything for certain about the universe, or stack of universes or whatever it is, you are probably wrong. I say probably because it is impossible in this world to be certain about anything. The firm ground of reality that progressive thinkers once expected to discover through science has been abolished by science itself, and we are wrapped in the same cloud of unknowing that has enveloped us since the beginning. Uncertainty is our constant condition, but Heisenberg’s recognition of it as a universal principle dismayed the progressives. They should stop worrying, according to Michio Kaku. The further you look into the universe the more interesting and attractive it appears. It captivates the greatest minds and enthrals them through lifetimes of study, while never revealing what lies behind its existence or our own. This seemingly flirtatious balance between disclosure and reticence is maintained throughout the whole of nature, which must be why the ancients called it a goddess.

As a young boy in Japan Kaku was obsessed by science and, no doubt to the relief of his family (he had built a functioning atom crusher in his mother’s garage), won a scholarship to Harvard. Charming and quick-witted, he soon became a leading physicist, a presenter of television science programmes and a popular writer. This book follows Einstein’s Cosmos (2004), Parallel Worlds (2005) and three earlier ones. It summarises in plain language for ordinary, non-scientific readers the theories and notions that prevail in contemporary cosmology.

There are sections on time and space travel, UFOs and extra-terrestrials, deportation, telekinesis, invisibility, robots and artificial intelligence — the standard themes of Fortean studies and science fiction. Most of these, says Kaku, are within the range of science, though some, such as perpetual motion devices and foreknowledge of future events, are seemingly impossible.

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