Next 20 Year Throug The Eyes of Michio Kaku
As part of the celebrations marking an orthe 20th anniversary of its modern new campus, our university invited Michio Kaku, Professor of theoretical physics at The City University of New York, a string theorist, the author of best-selling popular science books and a regular anchor of Discovery and National Geographic popular science serials, for a conference to the student body.
Making a power point presentation with his accustomed warm, animated and colorful style, Kaku took the students and academics packing the main auditorium, he took everyone to a breathtaking time travel to view the technology of twenty years from now. He paraded striking examples of products and processes brought to our doorstep by the current hi-tech revolution based on the dizzying advances in biotechnologies, nanotechnology and robotics, the latest of the cycles of breakthroughs and crises coming in 80-year intervals in the near history of civilization, the first ones being the steam and electrical revolutions.
Name one thing that is not available at that vast supermarket of consumer economy that he has drawn the picture of, based on production at molecular level as well as information processing and sharing technologies which have gained mind-boggling speeds. We have already started seeing the first generation of smart head displays and virtual reality kits; but wouldn’t you like to have a pair of those contact lenses which scroll the data on the object you are perusing or on the person you are talking with – and provide subtitles if he is speaking in an alien tongue? Or, perhaps, you would prefer to view the information on a larger “screen”, say, on the 30 sq-meter wall of your living room or window blinds? If you own a business, you have to hire neither a secretary, nor an accountant and a lawyer. Just ask the wall! You can leave the shopping to your fridge and your daily check-up to the toilet. Suppose an organ of yours or a relative’s became dysfunctional. No problem: Thanks to breakthroughs in the area of genetic engineering, brand-new replacements can be grown from your own cells. And if there are those which your body is incapable of cloning, leave them to 3-D printers. After all these, maybe you can believe now that your lifespan will be doubled. Say, you had an impossible wish. Let no one lecture you about the merits of realism. You create your customized “reality” by mounting unlimited virtual information on the existing one. You have gone out shopping: You don’t have to worry about getting your cash or credit cards stolen. The passing currency now (that is, then) is the bits downloaded to your ID. Just punch your password to the counter. You also don’t have to worry about the discrepancy of your size and that of the dress you have fallen in love with. The digital mirror has already sent your body dimensions to the production unit for the best fit. Robots shoulder the house chores. Taxis and mass transport vehicles are themselves robots. But take care if you are a businessman: It’s the consumers who have the upper hand in transactions now. In fact, there’s no place in future for the companies which fail to carry out the transformations required by advancing computer technologies. And neither for the workers, who fail to equip themselves with skills required by professions of the future.
After the presentation, KUrious interviewed Professor Kaku on a vast spectrum of subjects, ranging from sociological and philosophical problems to follow from that technology to the future of scince; from the string theory he is working on to the universe (oh, sorry, universes!) Following is the full text of the interview.
What would be the social and political implications of so vast and fast progress of technology? Would it paper over the so called “digital divide” or deepen the rift between the haves and have-nots.
Digital divide never materialized. That never happened. Today poor kids are on the Internet. If you’re not on Internet, you don’t exist as a child. Children have to find out who they are via the Internet. It’s their whole life. The problem is not the digital drive. The problem is jobs. That is a problem. For instance, in the United States (and perhaps in Europe, too), there is a lot of jobs out there. But they all require more technical background. And we are not training people to enter into these jobs. So we train people to live in the world of 1950s. When you graduate from many colleges, you are very fit for the jobs of 1950s. But these jobs don’t exist anymore. So, I think that that’s going to be the problem we have to deal with. The fact is that people, who are educated, will do better than people who are not educated. Now, take a look at how politicians view this question and how science views this question. Politicians may be former lawyers. And in law everything is a zero-sum game. You sue people to play ball. That’s law. But when these lawyers become politicians, it’s the same thing. You tax people to play the ball. It too, is a zero-sum game. So the pie is cut thinner and thinner and thinner. I’m a scientist, and my attitude is we need a bigger pie. We don’t need the old pie, of old, where one group wins and another group loses. I say we need a bigger pie. For instance, in quantum physics, and I am a quantum physicist, two inventions from the quantum physics changed the civilization: the laser, and the transistor. Much of the world’s wealth is now related to lasers and transistors coming from the quantum physics. And so, science generates wealth. It’s a wealth creator. But, many people don’t know that. Many people think it’s a zero-sum game. Richer people are getting richer and poor people getting poor. So some people say, “tax the rich”. Well, you can do that, but that’s not what people need. . But then they don’t invest anymore. But you see, it’s not the rich or stealing for the poor. It’s the job market that’s changing, the rich people, because they are educated, take advantage of all the wondrous powers of computers and the internet while the poor people make money on their two hands. And that’s what’s causing the rich get richer and poor to get poorer. So, the answer is not to tax the rich to pay for the poor, the answer is to raise the level of the poor so that they become self sufficient in the new digital age. Because if you simply tax the rich to pay for the poor, this doesn’t work; because, you cannot tax the rich forever. You want to lift the poor and that’s why it’s not a matter of employment.
After your compelling description of what we are to see in 20-30 years, do you think that the march of technology would bring about a better government, or even a unified government for the ordered world in a more distant future?
I think in short term, it means more democracy. But democracy is only as good as the people who do the voting. And if the people are very much nationalistic and a little bit selfish about borders and stuff like that, we’ll still have national conflicts. So my belief is that we’ll have nations in the future. Except, every year they lose power. Every year they’re less consequential. But we’ll have nations because people have common languages, common cultures, but as far as taxation, as far as currency is concerned, we’re seeing a breakdown of that. Remember, capitalism created the nations. So, that they could tax, collect levies and have more profit within national boundaries. That’s why we have nations. That’s why Bismarck created Germany, for example. But you, see, in the future we’ll still have to have taxes, but they are going to be global. But they are going to be regional taxes, not just national taxes but we’ll still have taxes, we’ll still have national boundaries, I think they will change very slowly. So I think that by the year 2100, how we will live? First of all, if you go to any country today, people are bilingual. Even the kids are bilingual. They speak a European language, and then they speak the local language. In the future, by the year 2100, we’ll be bi-planetary. We’ll have the planetary culture. Rock’n roll, and football, and the local culture, and the highly-educated people will be bi-planetary; they will have two cultures basically. And I think we are seeing the beginning of that now with the young people gravitating to rock’n roll, youth music is the same. Everywhere I go, the youth music is pretty much the same, high fashion is pretty much the same. We’re seeing the beginning of a planetary culture that co-exists with the local culture, the same way that we speak a European language and a local language at the same time.
So at the subsurface there is a current of globalization.
Yes, a cultural globalization that co-exists with local cultures in the same way that languages, a few languages, for instance like the English and the Mandarin are becoming global, but we also have local languages and local cultures. So, that’s how we are going to live socially in a type-1 civilization. (Here, Kaku refers to the famous classification of intelligence civilizations by Russian Physicist Nikolai Kardashev, according to which a Type-I civilization is the one able to exploit the whole resources of its planet, Type-II, the one able to utilize the complete resources provided by their star [eg: The Sun], Type-III, which can exploit the whole energy of its galaxy, and finally, Type IV, which can utilize the whole energy of the universe itself.) And we’ll have differences; take a look at Europe. European system is under strain, because Greece has much less productivity than Germany and putting them all together didn’t solve all the problems even with a common currency. You have cultural problems. But if you take a look at the United States, you sort of see the future in the sense that there’s one language across 5.000 miles, You go from Maine to all the way to Hawaii and people speak the same language and they laugh at the same jokes and they watch the same TV programs and it means labor and capital is more in sync. Now, if there is a problem with the economy in Europe, it stays there, because labor is not mobile. Capital is mobile. Capital can move between countries of Europe; but labor, no. That’s because of language problems. If you are unemployed in Italy, you may stay in Italy even if there are jobs in Norway. Now, in America, if you’re unemployed in Florida, what do you do? You go to Texas, if you are unemployed in Texas, you go to California. So labor and capital equalize rapidly in the United States. That’s a model for the future. So I think the future in Europe is going to be the young people. Young people who hitch-hike, young people who cross borders to see what other countries are like, and speak a common European language, so it’s going to be more like the United States. But, it’s going to take time because of the disparity in European economies.
Ray Kurzweil is a renowned futurist. In his famed book “Singularity is near”, we would have digitalized the human brain by now; a feat that would combine the huge parallel processing ability of our brains with the incomparably faster processing speed of computers which would greatly accelerate the progress of technology with the end result that humans would cease to be purely biological, and would become biological, electronic and mechanicak hybrids sometime in mid-21st century and would “dominate the universe” by the end of this century. As a reputed futurist yourself, how would you judge his predictions.
Well, I think it’s a question of time frame. I am a physicist. So the first thing I say is “does it defy the laws of physics?” And if it doesn’t defy the laws of physics, what is the time frame that certain things will come to be? So I interviewed Ray Kurzweil’s thesis adviser. Marvin Minsky, the father of artificial intelligence. I asked him about the time frame. When the machines were going to be as smart as ourselves and so on and so forth? And he said “I don’t make predictions about time anymore”. Well you see, he had made some wild predictions back in the sixties that he still regrets; that are still coming back to haunt him. So I think that with wisdom we become wiser to realize that these predictions come to haunt you. So I’m not saying that Ray is wrong. Many of his predictions may very well come true. Except that I would put a longer time frame. I would stretch time frame out. Now; as far as us becoming cyborgs, in some sense we already are. Ever since we were cavemen, we’ve been tinkering with the human body. Well some people are kind of repelled by the idea of tinkering with the body, but we have been doing it. Some of the oldest human beings had some tattoos. They are the simplest way that we’ve been altering our body. Now we have cochlear implants, literally, restoring hearing to people who are deaf, using electronics. Artificial retinas are being developed at Los Angeles, which is pretty good. You can actually see, maybe scores of colored dots. You’re not seeing everything with the clarity of a human retina; but we are getting there when people can actually see colors and actually see the outlines of people in their artificial retinas. And, one day we’ll meet aliens from outer space. They may be part biological and part mechanical. Space travel is very dangerous, very arduous. They may not want to settle their astronauts into this very dangerous environment; they may want to enhance them genetically and mechanically. Now, people again may be repelled by the idea, but my attitude is that democracy, our grandchildren may decide to alter some of these things. They will decide; not us. We’re the funny daddies. They’ll decide how far they will tinker with the human body. For example, designer children. Already, we have found at the level of mice that there is a smart mouse gene and a mighty mouse gene. Mice, with better memory power than ordinary mice. We now know that humans have a counterpart of that same gene. We have found a mighty mouse gene: mice that are both smarter and look like muscle-bound, and now we are having that in human form. So there will be a temptation to create designer children. So, it is possible that, a hundred years from now, when we become type I, that some of us will be genetically enhanced and some of us will be mechanically enhanced. But it will be done democratically. People will democratically vote to how far to push this technology. Now, personally I think that we should use this technology for medicinal purposes rather than cosmetic purposes. But, you know laws may have to be passed to restrict this, for otherwise we would be tinkering with the human race, and I think that will be a bad idea.
You have mentioned a looming “next crisis when the bubble bursts”. What shape will it take?
Well, as I’ve mentioned, when you take a look at the great crashes of the past, We had a big one in 1850, then smaller ones; in 1929, then smaller ones, and then at 2008. Each one separated by eighty years. And so what was the cycle of eighty years? And the answer was it was technology. First one was steam, next one was electricity and the third wave was high technology. Each one creating bubbles and then the bubble popped. So the fourth wave will be a combination of biotech, nanotech and artificial intelligence; basically, molecular science. Molecular science will drive the economy for the next eighty years. But we are at the beginning of that cycle. So, the nanotechnology is still very young; biotechnology is getting pretty advanced now, but still it has a lot of way to go; but artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, I think. But they will combine to provide wealth for the future. I think robotics could become as big as the automobile industry.
Think of the automobile industry. Everyone has an automobile, right? And a lot of the workers are tied up in automobiles. The future, it could be robotics. Everyone will have an array of robots. It’s not going to be human intelligence; I don’t think they’ll put into them human intelligence, but they’ll do things like cooking, for instance, and do the laundry, waxing the floor. So I think there will be a very large robotics industry.
Yes, but where’s the crisis? When and how the bubble will burst? What will happen? Will the robots rebel?
We are cavemen and cavewomen. They hunt in packs. There is a pack mentality. You want to be a part of the flow of everyone, right? So, why do we have stock market crashes? Because, we follow the leader. Everyone says “Aha, there’s where the money is”, so everyone starts to invest and there is a crisis and the bubble pops and we start all over again. So, this is part of human nature, unfortunately. When we pass laws, we are restricting the growth of bubbles; but now, the bubble is still largely unregulated, which is very bad. So you could find another bubble in eighty years. Who knows for sure, that we may not have another bubble when this wave of technology at the molecular level starts to create wealth for the society. But like I said, all those three technologies are still very young and we haven’t seen the fruits of that. We have a lot of way to go. As I said 80 years is the cycle time for most of these technologies.
Talking of fruits, let’s come to your theory now. The string theory. What you have shown in your presentation are the products, as you have said, of two great theories of the 20th century. So, in a more general sense, the human civilization, or the level of progress it has achieved rest on the assumption of both theories that all known particles are point-like objects. But string theory says, they are, in fact, different modes of tiny vibrating strings. So, if your theory comes to prevail, shall we have a whole set of material benefits, or “fruits”, to add to these, or will it just change or deepen our insight into the workings of the universe?
Yes and no. The impact will be, philosophical, social and maybe practical. Philosophically speaking, we have a new paradigm, that is music. What paradigm is rich enough to explain the diversity of matter, the diversity of everything we see around us? The only paradigm that’s rich enough to explain the complexity of things is music. If in it a number of melodies is possible, beautiful and gorgeous, it is done obviously by vibrating strings. Look at DNA. DNA codes life. All life is encoded on two vibrating strings. So, that is the one paradigm that allows us to explain the diversity of matter; why we have this, this and this and all these kinds of things. So, philosophically, it is pleasing; but on a practical level, the string theory is a theory of universes. Each solution is an entire universe.
And how many universes could there be? I’ve come across a figure something like 10500. . .
Yes, that’s one calculation. But we think it is infinite. Take a look at light. That light is guided by Maxwell’s equations. How many solutions are there for Maxwell equations? You can have lasers, You can have light bulbs, you can have flashlights, anything electrical is governed by Maxwell’s equations. Yes; one equation, but how many solutions are there? Infinite number of solutions. So, now we have a theory of the universe. If you have a theory of the universe, just like Maxwell’s equations, it, too, will give an infinite number of solutions; except, the string theory is a theory of universes. So each solution is a universe, meaning that there are millions and millions of parallel universes. Then the question is which universe is do we live in. Well, the same thing’s with light. ?What universe that we live in? You have to tell me with a flash light, you have to tell me with a compass needle thing, then I will solve it for you. I think it’s the same with the string theory. You have to give me some experimental data points. Then, I’ll give you everything. But without some data points, it is like saying well Maxwell equations have boundary conditions. But there is an infinite number of solutions. Some people say that string theory selects out maybe one universe. That universe is where consciousness exists. You see, the consciousness is very difficult to create. First you have to have stable matter.
Yes; anthropic principle creeping in from the back door. Anyway, consciousness is something very difficult to create. For example, stable protons. Most string solutions do not have stable protons. They fall apart. To have stable protons takes a lot of work, to get a proton to be stable in string theory. And so, we think, therefore, that consciousness, which requires stable matter, is rare. And maybe that will select out from among all the different universes the universe that we are living in. These other universes: They may exist, but they are rather useless, because no one’s going to talk about them. We’re here in this universe and we can talk about it because we are conscious.
With the discovery of the Higgs boson at the LHC; the Standard Model is said to be by and large complete. But the LHC after a lengthy maintenance is to run again with increased (double) power in hopes of finding dark matter particles and possible signs of extra dimensions. What are their chances of finding them and, how soon?
Well, nobody knows when we’ll discover the next particle. First of all, the Standard Model you have mentioned is a theory of 4 percent. 4 percent of the universe is described very well by the standard model. But 96 percent of the universe is missing. And that’s why we want string theory to fill the other 96 percent; but Standard model is very good in describing the 4 percent of the universe. The problem with it is aesthetics. It is the ugliest theory known to science. Take an Aardvark, a platypus and a whale, scotch-tape them together and say that this is the nature’s finest evolutionary achievement, the end product of millions and millions of years of evolution in the Earth. Nobody thinks that the Standard Model is the final theory. Even its creators think it’s just too ugly to be a proper model. No gravity, ninety free parameters to play with, three generations of quarks, 36 quarks altogether. So no one thinks it’s a fundamental theory. So now they go to the next thing.
The Large Hadron Collider has found the Higgs boson to complete the Standard Model, but we think that there is another octave. If string theory is correct, the Standard Model is the lowest octave. The higher octaves, we think, are the Sparticles: superparticles. However, it is not clear how massive these particles are. That’s the killer. If these particles are very very massive, then we may not be able to find these particles. Now, the Japanese government, to stimulate the economy is pushing its successor to the Large Hadron Collider. It’s the ILC, the International Linear Collider. They want to use it to stimulate the Japanese economy. So, why not? There are billions to burn. So why not burn it while getting some prestige by building the ILC. We believe that LHC, and ILC may be powerful enough to create dark matter. And the leading candidate for dark matter is sparticle, the photino (the superparticle of photon), for example. It is stable and it is invisible, which is exactly what you want in the dark matter. But we don’t know how massive it is. Photino is stable and it has no charge. And that’s exactly what you want. It is like a neutron. A neutron is stable for several minutes and has no electrical charge. So if I hold neutrons in my hands, they will fall right through my fingers, go right through the center of the world, go to China, reverse direction from China and then oscillate between my hand and China. That’s what neutron would do. And that’s also what dark matter would do. Because dark matter is also chargeless and invisible, but has mass. We think its for the whole class of these particles. Because strings are vibrations all the way up. So, we think that next generation of particles may be discovered by LHC or ILC. We do not know the scale of the supersymmetry breaking. We think that in the beginning of the universe there was a super force held together by supersymmetry. Supersymmetry has to break, as our universe is broken: trees, mountains, air, planets… Our universe is horribly broken. But at the beginning of time, the universe was perfect. We believe that supersymmetry was the force holding the universe together. But you had to break it. You had to crack it and then the big bang emerges. So the big bang is a product of symmetry breaking. The problem is we don’t know the scale of the symmetry breaking. We don’t know with what energy the original universe split apart. That’s a big question mark. You had to put it by hand. We don’t like that, but what do we do? So if this particle turns out to be very very massive, we may not be able to find it. That doesn’t mean it is not there; that means our machines are not powerful enough to reveal it. Now, we are intelligent apes on the third planet of a minor star in the minor quarter of a minor galaxy. The very fact that we can probe the Higgs boson in the Standard Model is next to a miracle. So to expect us intelligent apes to be able to probe supersymmetry would be an incredible achievement. So there is a chance that the machines may not be powerful enough to find the photino or other dark matter. But, I’m optimistic; I think we’ll find dark matter in our living rooms. There’s dark matter in the room. The Earth is moving in a wind of dark matter. But they don’t interact that well. So one day we are going to build one gigantic vat of cleaning fluid and watch a dark matter particle hit a proton and break it apart, and then we’ll be able to do experiments.
They have done that in Italy, and they have reported some positive signs…
That’s right, they thought they saw some positive signs, but no one else has been able to reproduce these things. So we think that eventually we’ll be able to find dark matter in our living rooms basically. Even though Large Hadron Collider and ILC may not be powerful enough to find it, they may already exist right on this table. They may exist, but like neutrons they are neutral and very very hard to find.
You have said there were an infinite number of universes. Is there a way to prove that?
It may be experimentally possible to prove the existence of parallel universes and what happened before the big bang. We hope to launch, maybe in ten years, LISA, the Laser Interferometry Space Antenna and detect gravity waves from the Big Bang itself. We want to get baby pictures of the instant of creation but we may see the universe emerging from the womb, and maybe an umbilical cord that connect the baby universe to a parent universe. How do we do this? By looking at post-Big Bang radiation, we can then trace the graph backwards to before the big bang, according to string theory. String theory gives you pre-Big Bang and post-Big Bang universes. So when weknow the post-Big Bang radiation, we trace it back in time to the pre-Big Bank Universe. And that’s how we determine the existence of the universe before the Big Bang. So our universe is a bubble of some sort that’s expanding. That’s the picture given to us by Einstein. Same theory says that there are bubbles out there in a multiverse of bubbles, like a bubble bath. And when these bubbles collide, you could have a big bang, and when these bubbles fission into smaller bubbles you could have a big bang. So we think that Big Bang is a by-product of the multiverse.
By multiverse you mean an infinite number of universes I understand; not the many worlds interpretation of parallel universes, assumed to split into possible outcomes of every event taking place.
Yes, this is a bit different from that, even though they are related. With the many worlds theory most physicists are leaning towards that; because if you don’t believe in the many worlds theory, you run up against many paradoxes. For example, Eugene Wigner thought that the way to resolve the Schroedinger cat problem was to have God be the ultimate observer to collapse the wave function. So one alternative to explain the Schroedinger cat problem, how you can be dead and alive simultaneously, is to assume that a cosmic entity watches you and determines whether the cat is dead or alive. Here, there’s a possibility but simpler. The cat is both dead and alive, because the universe splits in half. So most of my friends ─and there are many Nobel laureates among them ─ lean towards the many worlds theory.
Thank you very much, Professor.