For a man who has made it his mission to complete Einstein’s theory of everything—a hypothetical framework in physics that would singlehandedly explain everything in the universe— Michio Kaku took well to the stage. As the world-renowned theoretical physicist, New York Times bestselling author and professor of physics at The City College of New York walked into Collier Arena last Friday evening, a hush fell over the crowd. Necks strained to get a better look at the man (and his hair), and phones shot up to snap pictures. Michio Kaku opened with a joke, and everyone settled into their seats a little bit more.
Michio Kaku began his presentation by explaining how Moore’s Law, which famously predicted the future of exponential growth for technology, fit into his talk and provided the foundation necessary for his book, The Future of the Mind. The implications of Moore’s Law, Kaku points out, have enabled people to purchase devices with a far greater number of transistors per square inch at a far reduced price. Essentially: more power, smaller computer, less money. He even pointed out that the average smart phone today has as much power as NASA’s Apollo 11. The remarkable exponential growth in technological advancement has led physicists like Kaku to make some pretty remarkable predictions about the advancement of life on this water planet we call earth. In his book, Kaku paints the picture of a flawless future for mankind.
A little more than halfway through the presentation, Kaku showed a video on the screen behind him. The video was set in the future, a future whose setting looked vaguely familiar, perhaps from early memories of movies like iRobot and GATTACA. Shortly after the video began, Michio Kaku himself appeared on the screen, and started to walk the audience through the future of everything from medicine and urgent care facilities to the Internet and time travel. It seemed silly to watch the two identical men before me, one in the present and one appearing in a proposed future reality. But, if Michio Kaku’s predictions are right, my great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to meet the physicist long after he dies. Technology will be able to process and capture the intricate characteristics and thought patterns that make up an individual, and recreate that individual in a virtual reality so sophisticated that people living hundreds of years from now could carry on conversations with their favorite historical figures. What about the future of museums? Kaku believes that in the future there will be no need for museums, books, or movies of famous people of the past. If there are any museums, they will likely house the PCs and iPhones of today.
In the video, Kaku gave the impression that future hospitals will be more like body shops. Physical well-being, from achieving a healthy weight to ridding the body of cancerous cells before they spread, will be as easy as replacing a missing or damaged auto part in a garage. If a body part breaks down, new working organs will be grown from the patient’s own cells. This idea may not seem so ‘far out’ as talk of three-dimensional printers and stem cell research increases, but the idea of flawless health with no complications is hard to swallow.
Other advances, such as flying cars, intelligent paper, and “robo-doc”—a robotic doctor that, according to Kaku, will be a common household appliance in the future—sounded like they had been thought up from a 1960s science fiction film. Is it possible that these tech advancements will create a reality similar to the one in Michio Kaku’s video? I talked to some Hanover College students to see how they felt about Kaku’s theories.
Junior Daniel Sanabria Chavez grew up watching Discovery and History Channel documentaries on astronomy and physics. When he heard about the event, he was quick to get a ticket. “I was really excited to see one of the most influential physicists of the 21st century,” he said.
Like many of those in the audience with background knowledge in theoretical physics, Sanabria Chavez hoped Kaku would focus on his research, the research that was attempting to finish what Einstein had begun, and “[Sanabria] hoped he would explain what this experience has been like for him and what he has learned so far.” But despite the sophisticated subject matter of his presentation, I couldn’t help but feel that Kaku was talking down to his audience. Sanabria Chavez agreed, saying that the speech might have been “simplified too much for a college crowd.”
I asked freshman Kendall Smith about her thoughts on the presentation. “It was like I was watching an infomercial,” Smith exclaimed in the lobby after the talk. “For 90 minutes Michio Kaku tried to sell me a world far beyond our wildest dreams, but left without telling me how much it cost or where I could buy it.” Smith is in no way against the advancement of technology: “Science is one of my greatest passions, but so is logical reasoning and Michio Kaku’s one-sided argument left me feeling at unease. He touched on all the benefits of these new technologies, but failed to touch on possible consequences of these advancements.”
One such consequence Kaku did mention is the danger of destructive weapons used in war. To give some understanding of how far technology has come following Moore’s law, Kaku said that the computing power within a standard smart phone chip would have changed the outcome of the Second World War had it found its way into Hitler’s hands. Kaku followed this by proposing a response. He was vague about this and other comparisons, leaving a lot of audience members wanting to know more. Perhaps he was hoping the suspense would motivate attendees to purchase his book.
Smith was not alone in her unease. A number of audience members were able to ask questions following the end of Kaku’s presentation, and many of those questions reflected similar concerns, concerns regarding how such drastic technological advancements would impact current problems facing the modern world. One audience member asked Kaku how the earth would house all those people whose lives could be expected to be extended with the help of such futuristic medical technologies. To this, Kaku replied by pointing out how patterns of child rearing, including number of children per household and the number of women choosing to focus on building a career instead of a family, would counteract this rise. Although he didn’t provide any statistics to back up such a claim, he also made sure to say that such changes are still generations away from becoming a reality, and in that time there will be many issues that will have to be addressed.
If you attended Michio Kaku’s talk last Friday evening, whether you had no background knowledge in theoretical physics or grew up watching documentaries on the subject, hopefully you found some food for thought! Both Sanabria Chavez and Smith admitted that they were grateful for the chance to hear such a renowned scientist speak at Hanover College. If nothing else, Michio Kaku’s talk should motivate all of us to learn more about the future of science, technology, and medicine, so that we may develop a well-rounded idea of what could be expected as a result of the advances Kaku spoke about.
If you attended the talk last Friday and would like to initiate further dialogue about what was presented, please feel free to respond by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
Written By: Geneva Dischinger-Smedes