3 books about the future

(Daniel Hertzberg For The Washington Post)
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 5:18 PM

Jet packs! Robot maids! Underwater cities! Where's the future we were promised? Blessedly, none of the following books about the future predicts meals in the form of a pill. That's not a future any of us want to live in.

1PHYSICS OF THE FUTURE: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 , by Michio Kaku (Doubleday, $28.95). Alas, people will still be suffering from hangovers a century from now, according to physics professor Michio Kaku. Consider his example of John, a 72-year-old bachelor who is as healthy and good-looking as a 30-year-old. He wakes up on Jan. 1, 2100, with a painful reminder of the New Year's Eve party the night before. But don't feel bad for him. In the kitchen, his robotic cook is brewing strong coffee and frying eggs just the way he likes them. At breakfast John scans the headlines (Mars colonists are running out of supplies; the zoo brought an extinct animal back to life) by putting in contact lenses that project the Internet onto his retinas. Later, he goes to work in a flying car. Many of his co-workers are 3-D holograms of real people who live elsewhere. On the weekend, he has a date with a looker named Karen. She's in her 60s but, like John, is still relatively young thanks to medical advances. Most of John's furniture is made of programmable matter that he can dissolve and remake into something clean and trendy - just in case Karen wants to come back to his place. But still, before the date John is pretty nervous. Hangovers evidently aren't the only things you can't escape in the future.

2DEEP FUTURE: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth , by Curt Stager (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $25.99). "In these early days of human-driven climate change, global warming is on center stage," writes Stager, a paleo-ecologist. "But that is only the foreword to an immensely long tale in which climate change will mostly come to mean global cooling." He explains the scientific models showing that our rising temperatures will eventually peak, then drop and perhaps lead to a new ice age. Stager is essentially saying that what goes up must come down - and there will be winners and losers in the process. Happily, he thinks humans will survive.

3FUTURE BABBLE: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better , by Dan Gardner (Dutton, $26.95). Okay, so these first two books might be bunk. Journalist Dan Gardner doesn't single them out by name, but his basic message - don't believe a word from the so-called experts - seems to include them. He shakes his head in disbelief at experts who continually get it wrong and the rest of us who listen to them anyway. (Our credulity is "in our hardwired aversion to uncertainty," he writes.) The book is packed with examples, such as the failure of demographic forecasts and the futility of predicting oil prices. Gardner presents the results of a 20-year study that involved 284 experts. On average, their predictions were no more accurate than random guesses. The future, he predicts, will remain uncertain.

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