I recently finished reading Michio Kaku’s thought-provoking book, Physics of the Future. It was packed with vignettes about nanotechnology, robotics, AI, and the future of energy, which are all interesting in their own rights. However, I was most intrigued when Kaku hinted at or asked the reader to consider how we react to science and technology and what it tells us about human nature.
Here are some thoughts that I jotted down as I read:
- Interesting paradox: scientists may express doubts about people and the state of modern society, yet they believe in progress. Somehow, things will always advance, and humanity will benefit from them in the long run. As if science and technology runs the show, and we are along for the ride whether we like it or not.
- The Cave Man Principle: technology advances quickly, but human nature does not. In many ways, we are still much like our ancestors, and may always be. People still prefer face to face interaction over teleconferencing. They may see no problem in perfecting their bodies, but they’d balk at giving them up. Even if it was possible to download our consciousness into a computer, most people wouldn’t do it.
- As we become more technological, art becomes increasingly important. It’s the one thing that we can do that robots cannot (at least in the foreseeable future). The ability to love, appreciate and create beauty – arguably, this is what makes us human.
Finally, I love Kaku’s conclusion, as it touches on many of the things I have written about on this site (relationship between philosophy and science, knowledge and wisdom, and why philosophy is important). Kaku wrote:
“But science by itself is morally neutral. Science is like a double-edged sword. One side of the sword can cut against poverty, disease, and ignorance. But the other side of the sword can cut against people. How this mighty sword is wielded depends on the wisdom of its handlers…
“In our society, wisdom is hard to come by. As Isaac Asimov once said, ‘The saddest aspect of society right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.’ Unlike information, it cannot be dispensed via blogs (except Philoscifi! I jest) and Internet chatter. Since we are drowning in an ocean of information, the most precious commodity in modern society is wisdom. Without wisdom and insight, we are left to drift aimlessly and without purpose, with an empty, hollow feeling after the novelty of unlimited information wears off.” pp 349-350.
The future is coming, whether we like it or not. We can learn as much as we can, have an intelligent discussion, and make informed decisions on what we want it to look like. Or we can ignore it and hope for the best. The choice is ours.