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The Imaginary Future

Dec 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 14 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Michio Kaku is a sort of pop physicist who makes a specialty of glibly forecasting future technology. He had a piece in the New York Times recently making 10 “predictions for the future,” and they’re about as facile as one would expect from a stalwart of the TED Talk circuit. Take just two examples: Kaku says that “Augmented Reality Will Become Everyday Reality.” (Actual quote: “Remember the movie ‘The Matrix,’ where virtual information popped up to help inform physical day-to-day reality? Such things won’t always be the stuff of Hollywood.”) He also claims that “Dictators Will Be Big Losers.” (Kaku: “The digital revolution empowers the disenfranchised, especially people living under dictatorships. The Internet frees people to realize they don’t have to live like slaves. Dictators, who fear the Internet, and their own people, will be big losers.”)



Except .  .  . there are very real issues of safety and privacy rights that will have to be worked out before we all live in augmented reality. Already, businesses are banning the use of Google Glass’s augmented reality technology because of serious privacy concerns. (And by the way, there’s no evidence that people—a few gearheads aside—want to adopt augmented reality en masse.) Kaku doesn’t mention these issues. As for his second point, dictatorial regimes have proven remarkably adept at using technology to strengthen their hold on citizens. The Chinese government, for example, uses the Internet as just another surveillance system.

Other predictions Kaku simply conjures out of thin air:

As in science fiction, via the Internet we will be able to experience telepathy (mind-to-mind contact) and telekinesis (mind controlling matter), to upload memories, create a brain-net (memories and emotions sent over the Internet), and record thoughts and even dreams. Basic proofs of principle for all of this have been demonstrated. This could have an enormous social impact. If memories can be uploaded, unemployed workers might one day be retrained to learn new skills. Students could take college courses while sleeping. Facebook will be full of emotions and memories. Movies may offer emotions, feelings, sensations and memories, not just images and sound.

There’s no evidence that any of this will ever happen—this “prediction” is nothing but, well, science fiction. (One tell is that Kaku provides no dates for when these technological developments are supposed to occur.) But then again, what are mere pesky facts when we’re talking about .  .  . the future?

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