Thursday, January 27, 2011
Michio Kaku on Augmented Reality and Fusion Power Dorothée Enskog, Online Publications
24.01.2011 Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, tissue engineering and fusion power are or will soon be available to us, says the futurist and physicist Michio Kaku. All these upcoming breakthroughs will have a profound impact on the global economy, as we’ll be living in perfect capitalism, Kaku says in an interview.
Michio Kaku, you are a well-known futurist. How is your background as a physicist helping you predict the future?
Kaku: Physicists are behind every single major breakthrough of the 20th century, and we physicists are now inventing the 21st century. Our breakthroughs will affect medicine, finance, the nature of commerce and how we interact with other people.
How will these breakthroughs affect finance?
In the next 10 years or so, computers will be 1,000 times more powerful than today, which means they’ll be 1,000 times cheaper. They will probably be what electricity is today: everywhere and nowhere. That’s the future of computing: cloud computing. We’ll also have flexible (PC) screens. You will soon be unwrapping your computer screen, because it will be made of intelligent paper. Computer chips will only cost a penny in about 10 to 15 years. Wallpaper will be intelligent. You’ll be talking to the wall, and be able to change its color or the pictures hanging there. You’ll have a TV screen in the wall. We’re developing this type of intelligent wallpaper right now.
Another example is the contact lens, a little object just like a jeweler’s lens that you flip over your eye, which will also be intelligent. So when you talk to somebody, your contact lens will identify who this person is. His or her biography and name will be printed out in the lens. And if someone speaks German or another language, you’ll see subtitles underneath in real time, as that person speaks. We’re already developing prototypes.
These lenses also mean that when you’ll store walk into a grocery store or a toy in the future, the lens will scan all objects and tell you the prices and who has the cheapest price. This development is going to change the nature of capitalism. Today, we live in imperfect capitalism. You don’t know how much things exactly cost or who has the cheapest beer or toy. In the future, your contact lens will tell you who does. This is perfect capitalism, where supply and demand precisely meet where they should. The advantage will shift to the consumer, because they’ll simply look and see all the relative prices displayed.
Who else will be affected by this “contact lens”?
Students taking exams for example. They will blink and see all the correct replies. Professors will have to change their exams, so there is less emphasis on memorization.
Tourism will also be affected. Certain tourists going to Rome are quite disappointed as they only see ruins of the Roman Empire. Soon, you’ll be able see these ruins reconstructed through your contact lens. This technology already exists. A Chinese city, destroyed in the last opium war, has been reconstructed through animation. You can walk around and see how is used to be.
The military is perfecting this technology for the battlefield. Soldiers will immediately see where their friends are, where the enemy is, where airplanes are, simply by blinking.
Who is carrying out the research in this field?
Numerous laboratories around the world. This is big business. It’s not commercially available yet, because it’s still very expensive. But one day, it will change our life. In museums, you’ll just ask your contact lens to describe the objects and their history. At night, when you’ll be looking at the sky and don’t know the names of the stars, the lens will tell you these, as well as the names of the constellations, black holes and supernovas.
How will these radical changes affect the labor market?
Some people earlier forecast that we were going to have a digital divide between the digital rich and the digital poor. That’s wrong, because computer power is now so cheap that even slum dwellers have access to PCs nowadays. The job market is, however, going to be turned upside down by this artificial intelligence.
Robots are getting smarter and smarter. However, there are two things they can not do. They do not understand what they see. All they see is geometric patterns: lines, circles, squares and triangles. They don’t recognize a cup from a person, from a cell phone … Secondly, they don’t understand common sense, such as water is wet or that strings pull, but do not push. These statements are found nowhere in mathematics.
Tasks that involve creativity, imagination, talent, analysis and leadership are way beyond the capability of any computer or robot. So the losers on the labor market will be people that do repetitive work, because that’s what robots do best: repetitive work. Blue collar work that will thrive is non-repetitive work that requires pattern recognition. Construction workers will be necessary, because every construction site is different. Gardeners will be needed, because every garden is different, just as garbage men, because every piece of garbage is different. Policemen will have jobs, as every crime is different.
With regard to white collar work, the losers are the middlemen. They will no longer be needed. You’ll have to add value to your services. You have to add experience, knowledge, gossip, inside dope and years of experience. Robots do not have experience, nor know about trends or the structure of new tax policies. Take real estate agents as an example. You can bid and buy an apartment house online, from start to finish. Somebody just lost a commission. But if you’re buying your first house, are you going to buy it online? No. You want to talk to a human, to know more about the sewer system, the crime rate, the school board. These are the types of services real estate agents will have to provide.
Capitalism will be making a gradual shift from commodity-based capital to intellectual capital. Today, you had a breakfast that the King of England could not have had 100 years ago, with delicacies shipped in from around the world. Commodities like food are dirt cheap and will be even cheaper in the future.
What will replace the current commodity-based capitalism?
Intellectual capitalism, or everything that robots can not do: common sense and pattern recognition. They will be the source of wealth in the future. Why? Because the brain can not be mass produced. You can containerize, ship and mass produce food, but you have to give birth to a human brain.
Intellectual capital is not just about computers, but also includes art, movies and novels. The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair used to say that England derives more revenue from rock music than it does from its coal mining industry. Why? Because coal can be mass produced, while rock and roll cannot.
The currency of the future will slowly become more and more common sense. China understands this development and has a very simple and successful strategy. They rely heavily on commodities, cheap labor and exports of mass produced cheap goods to generate capital. Simultaneously, they send their best students to America and Europe to make the transition to intellectual capital. Other nations have no such strategy. They invest heavily in agriculture and will gradually become poorer and poorer.
What other trends do you see coming up in the next decade?
Augmented reality. It’s when you clarify reality by making it more real. The military is, for example, interested in seeing through objects or making objects invisible. If you are a pilot and the enemy goes underneath your plane, you are blind. But, if you put cameras underneath your plane and shoot the image into your contact lens, you’ll see what’s below your aircraft when you look down, rather than your legs. So you will be able to see through objects.
Prospectors will use augmented reality. When you’re prospecting for oil, you’ll have satellite giving you radar soundings. Infrared radiation will allow us to see through objects and see where the oil is.
Are thought-controlled robots also on their way?
Primitive thought-controlled robots already exist. Honda already has a thought-controlled robot that can carry out four basic functions. Today, you can put a chip into a brain, connect a chip to a laptop, and move the cursor on the screen by thinking. Stroke victims that are totally paralyzed can use this technology today in order to surf the web, write e-mails. Thought-controlled objects are going to be one of the ways that we will interact with the computers of the future.
What is the timeline of these innovations?
We’re going to have the contact lenses in five to ten years, thought-controlled robots in maybe 20 years.
How about mind reading? If you can project thoughts, then can you read thoughts?
MRI scans already allows us to do so. MRI scan analyze blood flows. When you look at a dog, it affects your blood flow. We can obtain a dictionary of thought by looking at different objects and the MRI scans. It’s not 100 percent accurate, but 80 percent of the time the computer will recognize what you’re looking at.
Is time traveling also coming?
Time travel is centuries or millennia down the line, because you need vast amounts of energy. Time travel into the future is easy. Our astronauts do it every time they go into outer space. If you go into the speed of light, you can in some sense almost live forever, because you can wake up millions of year into the future.
Going to the past is problematic. But we cannot rule out that there is no gateway to the past. We for instance see these black holes in outer space. Where do the objects falling into these go? We don’t know. They may come out of a white hole in a different space and time.
How do you see the world resolving its ever greater energy needs?
I don’s see what could replace oil during the coming decade. There’s going to be chaos, as different sources of energy compete against each other. But in 10 years time the cost of solar energy could be lower than that of fossil fuels.
Would fission power or nuclear power be a solution?
The waste of fission power is very problematic. Fusion power has better prospects. The French are building an ITER fusion reactor in Cadarache. We hope to have infinite energy available from a glass of water in the future. One glass of water will eventually have more energy than many, many, many gallons of gasoline.
When will this French fusion plant be operational?
In 2019. Its commercialization may come around 2030 - 2040.
So fusion power should really resolve all our energy problems?
Yes. However that still leaves 30 years of enormous quantities of pollution going into the air. And as you know, the North Pole region is already 50 percent gone. Greenland and parts of Alaska are thawing out very rapidly, so sea levels could rise affecting numerous coastal regions.
How about the ongoing biotech revolution happening just now?
We’re just at the beginning of it. We’re soon going to be able to grow organs of the body. We’ll simply grow new ones when they grow old. Today, we can already grow skin, cartilage, noses, ears, blood vessels, heart valves from our own cells. The first bladder was grown three years ago and within five years the first liver could be grown, maybe even a pancreas. This means we might find a cure for diabetes. The scientific term for this progress is tissue engineering.
So will we live forever?
That’s a separate subject. Organ failure won’t be a major source of death in the future, as we’ll be able to replace them.
As far as living forever, we are now unlocking the secrets of the aging process at the genetic level. Aging is the accumulation of errors at the genetic and cellular level. The aging process takes place in the engine of the cell, the mitochondria. You get old not because you can’t repair your cells any longer.
You are working in a field of physics called string theory, which notably allows for parallel universes. How is this possible?
String theory allows for gateways to other universes. This is called the multiverse. A multiverse universe is like a bubble bath with each bubble representing a universe. They bump into each other, collide, split off… That picture of parallel universes can eventually be tested.
So, is Elvis Presley still alive in one of these parallel universes?
I don’t know. All I know is what the mathematic says: you can not rule it out in one of these other universes.
So do you believe that there are other humans or different types of lives in these other universes?
There could be. There is a theory called many worlds, in which there are infinite copies of us in the multiverse. That’s also allowed by quantum theory. So we could be having this very same conversation in a different place.
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