Can’t remember where I saw this one whether it was on a website or on Amazon, either way it sounded like something that I would certainly be interested in. Discussing the far future and the human civilization is always something I think is fascinating, so I had to check this one out.
Damien Broderick is a writer from Australia. He has written many books, in fact he has quite an impressive bibliography ranging from novels, science fiction, to nonfiction. He is given sometime given credit for creating the term virtual reality as well as the first to investigate the technological singularity according to Wikipedia. He is most well-known for his books The Dreaming Dragons, The Spike, and The Judas Mandala. He seems like a really interesting dude and I would love to interview him, but looked forever and could not find his contact info. So if you are out there Damien give me a shout!
This book is about the far future, in particular the Year One Million. Through various essays and a variety of writers the book explores the near future of humanity and eventually what they writers speculate humanity will be like if and or when we reach a super-civilization. It is very interesting to see what some of these essays have to say about our future and how we will accomplish certain feats such as, our growing needs for more and more energy. There is also the problem of faster than light travel and of course traveling long distances through interstellar space. All of these ideas are touched on and so much more through this extremely interesting read.
Honestly, I am not sure where to classify this book. I would have to say that it is probably non-fiction but I would not say wholeheartedly that it is fact, as almost everything in the book is speculation. I would classify it as speculative science and the future of humanity, if that is any classification? I don’t want to say that it is science fiction as that implies that this story is in the world of make believe. However, much of what we dream up in science fiction, to some extent, becomes either fact or enters into the realm of actual possibility. Often times what the imagination can dream up, has an extremely strong foothold in reality and science fact.
This book is certainly very interesting but I do have a few issues with it. One thing I noticed throughout the book was that despite the vastly different background of the authors they all seemed to have very similar ideas on what the future of humanity will look like. They all mentioned to some degree harvesting the energy of the sun, then potentially dismantling a planet or two, usually Saturn or Jupiter. Then they also mostly mentioned creating computonium and creating a Matrioska Brain, and of course then colonizing the galaxy. On the surface level you have to think ok, there are only so many scenarios that are theoretically possible, and yes I would have to agree that as we grow as a civilization we will need more and more energy that much is certain. So the most likely scenario is to use the sun. Ok that makes sense, I get it. But then the dismantling the planets and turning the sun into a giant computer, seem rather odd to me. And the fact that so many futurists, especially in the essays in this book, have come to this conclusion leads me to two schools of thought.
One is that these individuals are much smarter than myself (which this is undoubtedly true) and the fact that they have all come to a similar conclusion means that this is more than likely what is going to happen. This could very well be the case and the scenario and reality that comes to pass. BUT the other idea is that perhaps there is no imagination or thinking outside the box for these scenarios of the far future. The latter is what kind of scares me. While the ideas they put forth may seem like the most bizarre, intelligent, and thinking outside the box logic, the fact that everyone basically says the same thing is a little scary and has me a little concerned.
Again, I think we will more than likely use the sun as out primary source of energy, but after that I honestly have no idea. There was little exploration of the idea that humans could completely figure out the physical world, meaning that we have a complete understanding of Quantum Mechanics, General, and Special Relativity. And that if we did figure this out we could potentially manipulate the universe to our liking with relative ease, skirting the physical rules that were seemingly impossible to break. If this were the case then I do not think we would need to dismantle a planet or many of the other ideas presented in the book. I wish to some extent these ideas were explored in more detail, but I think the writers wanted to keep things more in the realm of relative possibility.
In the later chapters one writer did make a point of saying that everyone assumes that we will be able to travel to new worlds and populate them no problem, and it seemed again that most writers in this book had the same assumptions. However, they never really looked at the other side, and I think that was mostly on purpose as this book seemed to be a sort of positive outlook on the future. I will admit that I usually make these similar assumptions as technology is the ultimate trump card, meaning that given enough time (like One Million Years, as the book states) I have to think that humans will probably overcome almost all physical obstacles that stand in our way. However, I also think there could be some things that are simply not possible, and if these obstacles do exist then I think we will have to rethink our mindset on the far future. But still in my heart of hearts I think that no matter the obstacle there is a shortcut around it.
While there are some interesting ideas I am very curious why no one in the book talked about Dark Energy or Dark Mater and the potential possibility of harvesting this as an energy source. This book is a bit older, I think written in 2005 or 2006, so Dark Energy and Matter may not have been relatively well known back then, but I would argue that slightly more is known about these substances now. The problem is that these things make up over 70% of the physical universe yet we know absolutely nothing about them. That is certainly scary, and I would like to think that as we advance technologically we could potentially be able to figure out these substances and possible use them as energy sources. In theory if they do make up over 70% of the universe then I would think that our problem of finding sustainable energy is over. So now that we have that figured out, what do we do with our extra free time.
Another point that was somewhat backed into throughout the book was the search for more and more energy. Most essays spent the majority of the time explaining how we could find more and more energy sources. In fact most scenarios focused on how we could find these energy sources, traveling vast distances and amount of additional energy it would take to harvest them. Basically a few of the essays made humans of the far future out to be Conquistadors on an ever insatiable quest for more energy, which again is not impossible, but seems odd. On the flip side let’s say that we found a sustainable energy source for the far future, what then? What would humans do with more energy than is comprehendible and plenty of time, not to mention the time and energy saved from searching for more energy. That is the one million dollar question.
Almost half of the essays in the book mention computronium to some extent. I have heard the term before but never really knew what the heck it was. The definition from Wikipedia – is a material hypothesized by Norman Margolus and Tommaso Toffoli of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be used as “programmable matter,” a substrate for computer modeling of virtually any real object. I guess this is along the lines of nanotechnology? I am not really sure, but again I found it surprising and concerning that almost everyone mentioned this substance. As you can tell I don’t quite understand it and hopefully in the near future I can get in touch with someone to talk about it more in depth. In the main time I did find this article and this quote from it. The efficiency of a computer is ALWAYS related to how you assemble it in the real world, what you are trying to do with it, and what resources you have available. One should be careful when dealing with models that assume no resource constraints. Just think how different the world would be if we had an unlimited supply of free, clean energy. An extremely valid point indeed.
Another interesting point is when the book begins to talk about the end of the universe which I think is really cool. There is a lot of talk about the laws of thermodynamics and the eventual heat death of the universe. In these essays is where the book gets a little weird as they try to discuss what it would be like for some sort of creature to be alive during this time. At this point in the universe molecules would be extremely far apart from one another and the temperature of the universe would be near zero Kelvin, which means there is almost no atomic movement. The book talks about that if something were alive it would be a cloud of molecules and thoughts would take hundreds if not thousands of years to process. It honestly gets really weird when trying to think about life at this point in the universe. There is also a discussion about how or if at the end of this universe if it could spawn another universe. This seems near impossible, but I am not sure of the physical laws. The third law of thermodynamics says that a system will never reach absolute zero in terms of energy. So at the end of the universe there will still be energy, but an extremely small amount. So is it possible for that small amount of energy to spawn another universe. It is interesting to think about and there is a theory of the cyclical universe out there that has some validity to it.
I could probably write a Random Thoughts blog post on each chapter in this book. There is certainly a ton of information to cover. I will say that overall it was an ok read, but there were some long nights where I really could not comprehend what the essay was really talking about or had very little interest in what the writer was trying to say. Some of the speculative technology and what not was really strange and made little sense to me, which made for a long read. Still there are some really great essays in the book that get the mind working. If you are interested in reading about the far future and what scientists think it will be like then certainly check this one out. Otherwise I do not think this is is something to pick up and read just for fun, as it was difficult at times.