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Tue 10 Jan 2012 02:06 PM

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Quantum Leap

Driverless cars, chips embedded in contact lenses and teleportation. Dr Michio Kaku has made his name by predicting the trends of the future. So what does the next century hold in store for the planet?

Quantum Leap
Quantum Leap

It is impossible to know where to begin an interview with Dr Michio Kaku. The American theoretical physicist, author and futurist is as renowned for his theories on mathematics, physics and the string theory as he is his thoughts on time travel and UFOs.

Luckily, the veteran host of the Discovery Science channel has a rare ability to be able to relay all of his research into laymen’s terms, meaning most meetings quickly transcend into his fascinating description of what our future world will look like.

“In ten years time, computer chips will cost about a penny. A penny is what scrap paper costs, so chips are going to be cheaper than garbage, which means they’ll be everywhere by the millions; they’ll be underground, in the walls and in the ceiling,” he tells Arabian Business with little prompting.

“And just like the word electricity has disappeared from the English language, the word computer will be everywhere and nowhere and disappear from the English language,” he adds.

But that’s not all American-born Kaku — who is in Dubai to discuss what the long-term effects of technology will mean for the global economy — sees for the future. In just a decade, he describes a world of driverless cars, computer chips embedded in contact lenses and tourists wandering Rome and rebuilding the ancient ruins.

“Chips will be pretty much everywhere in the environment; in our glasses, inside our body and even in our contact lenses so we will blink and go online. Demand will be enormous, think of who will want to buy these things; college students studying for finals will blink and see the answers; actors and actresses will never fluff their lines; and politicians will never need the use of teleprompters,” he says.

“In these contact lenses, when I see you, I will see your biography right next to your name so I will always know who is important — at a cocktail party I always know who to suck up to. Then if you speak German or Hindi to me I’ll see subtitles as you speak,” he adds.

In 20 years time he predicts a world in which we will be able to compute mentally. “Already we can read the memorised scan of a brain, tell if you are lying or not because if you tell a lie your brain lights up like a Christmas tree,” he says. “We’ll be able to communicate with other computers, move objects around so in our contact lenses we’ll have the screen of the internet and we can communicate and guide the cursor mentally.”

By the time we reach 2100, the world Kaku describes goes beyond the Hollywood blockbuster Minority Report and propels in an almost indescribable reality. “We will liken the world of 2100 to the world of the Greek gods,” he says. “If you could meet your grandkids in the year 2100 they would consider you to be a god or a goddess. Zeus could move things around mentally, control objects and we are going to have this power very soon.

“Venus had a timeless body; we’ll be able to have perfection physically, cure genetic diseases and live much longer. We also had Pegasus, the flying horse and [in the future] we’ll have extinct creatures. Creatures that died out thousands of years ago and we’ll have zoos of extinct animals. Just like Apollo, Apollo rode in the sky in a chariot, we’ll have chariots of magnetism, and we’ll have flying cars, real flying cars by that period of time,” he adds.

But what does all this actually mean? It might all sound a bit wacky, bonkers to many, but as Kaku points out, our grandparents would look at the current generation, with its Twitter and Facebook updates, ability to clone sheep, grow human ears on the back of mice and the current technology being developed by military forces across the world as superhuman. “Our grandparents lived around 1900 and if you were to tell your grandparents that they would see their grandchildren living in a world of satellites, they would consider us to be wizards and sorcerers,” he explains.

Kaku’s predictions for the future, his thoughts on teleportation (it is possible, but not for another few centuries), what the discovery of water on the moon means for the future (“it is more than the value of gold found on earth”) and whether the history of the planet will end in 2012 as predicted by the Mayan Calendar (it won’t) have become his trademark. But they are also a way to make his more complex theories more widely accessible. Kaku started studying at a young age, assembling an atom smasher in his parents’ garage while still in high school. It wasn’t long before Hungarian-American theoretical scientist and the “father of the hydrogen bomb” Edward Teller met Kaku and took him on as a protégé, awarding him the Hertz Engineering Scholarship.

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Today, in addition to these more popularised theories, his appearances on the Sci-Fi Science series and regular slots on television and radio shows, he is also the co-founder of string field theory, a specific branch of the more general string theory, which relies heavily on mathematically framing the theory in terms of fields. He also continues in Einstein’s footsteps to search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory.

But what do Kaku’s predictions mean for the global economy of the future and why are they important? He points to two significant changes that are likely to take place in the coming years. The first is perfect capitalism, a world in which customers know everything there is to know about a product or service and its alternative.

“You will always know how much things cost and you’ll have what is known as mass customisation. In any product address, for example, you’ll be able to get in the right shape, the right colour because your credit card has all of your three dimensional measurements on it and you’ll have the option of punching out whenever the exactly the right size, colour, shape, form,” he explains.

The second, and most significant consequence, is the transition from commodity capital to intellectual capital, he adds. “If you take a look at the West, the West made a transition from commodities like coal, steel, copper and tin to intellectual capital [such as] software, hi-tech, Hollywood movies, songs, rock ‘n roll — all products of the mind. The nations of the future that will be rich are the nations that make the transition from goods that you can touch to goods that excite the mind,” he explains.

“Most nations are not making the transition. Look at sub-Saharan Africa, many of those countries are investing in food but think of food prices. This morning you had a breakfast that the King of England could not have had 100 years ago. Only a few years ago, food would have been from a few provinces and most of it was rotten.

“Today, you have refrigerators, food fresh from Tokyo or whenever and that’s because food prices keep going down every year and certain nations that put all of their eggs in the food basket, will see that basket crumble. Other nations like China understand that,” he adds.

This drive towards technology is being driven by children, but countries need to invest in their education now, says Kaku. “Children are the driving force of this technology, they love it. When I talk to kids about the internet contact lenses they say ‘where can I get one?’”

“The problem is the not the digital divide, the problem is jobs and wealth creation. Jobs require a transition from commodity capital that is being a coal miner to being a software developer. Tony Blair always liked to say that England devised more revenue from rock ‘n roll than the coal industry… so you see the importance between software and hardware.

“The human brain cannot be mass produced and that’s why nations need to invest in education because nations that invest in the next generation of high tech workers and high entertainment workers are smart countries,” he adds.

You heard it here first.

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Dr Michio Kaku on....

Social media: The ultimate game changer

Dr Michio Kaku is a big advocate of social media. Here are his thoughts on why it is such an important part of our lives.

“It’s changed the entire landscape. As a professor I speak to maybe 30 students in one class, why does it need to be limited to just the sound of my voice? Why can’t this knowledge be spread to people around the world, people who don’t even take physics at college or who may not even go to college? That’s why social media has such a big impact, it connects us and brings us together. We live in a changing universe, we live in a dynamic society and we want to make sure everyone is aware of the profound changes that are taking place right before your eyes.”

The caveman theory

“If you want to understand the essence of social media and you want to know what communication is going to look like in the decades of the future, forget all these fantastic devices we are going to have everywhere, think of a camp fire because for 99.9 percent of human existence, a brain was geared to the camp fire. Why are Hollywood movies so great? Because they tell stories; if a movie doesn’t tell a story, you are not interested and that is what we did at the camp fire, we told stories, horsed around and joked. If you multiply that by a billion and you have the world of the future… except the people in the campfire will be movie stars that you can interact with, they will be politicians that you email and maybe even interact with them.”

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marcellus kelley 8 years ago

the world needs individuality and clean un-polluted water!

Kenneth Schwab 8 years ago

One thing that makes Dr. Kaku such a great host is his enthuasiam which is reminint of Dr. Sagan. He is so excited by the world's techno progress that he forces you to share it with him.
To do that, you need to learn.. To share the same page with anyone, you need to try to be on the same educational level.
That is not to say that you need a phd but that you must study both mathmatics and sciences long and hard.
I have learned to take notes while listening to his broadcasts and to expand my understanding as soon as possible afterward.
This great man has gotten me out of my "old age status quo" and shaken the rust off of my grey matter. Thank You Dr. Kaku.

james y 8 years ago

i admire the optimism..but alas by 2030 we will still be fighting ww4 with sticks and stones...

Paolo C 8 years ago

The great thing of predicting the far future is that 98% of the people forgot anyway what you predicted. Humanity should concentrate on today's injustice, deception and media fraud if it does want to avoid many other human massacres. The laws of today are the same as for thousand of years ago, motivated by greed and power and backed up by short sighted mentality (found in every culture) and belief in some kind of superior entity governing us.

popri 8 years ago

Mr Kaku with all your respect this info it is just another selling of your unjustifiable self. Many americans use this for selling thru contradiction, yes another market inch but once again been told already, the only way to get on top of the other competition is by inflating it then, of curse becomes very vissible like FOX.
Thanks for you afforts though some of your staff is abit of a truth. This mix confuses and contradicts accours.
Seen it!!! not buying it.

saahir t 8 years ago

Did raise a tickle i must admit..but i must agree with you on this one, james