Holidays to the moon. Seeing your memories on TV. Immortality. These are a few predictions for the future — and others are downright terrifying.
Immortality. Conversations with Einstein. Contact lenses that can show you strangers’ histories.
It may sound like a Black Mirror synopsis — but according to Dr Michio Kaku, one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, it’s all part of an impending reality that will be drastically different to the world as we know it.
On a recent trip to Australia with This Is 42, Dr Kaku shared some insights on how the world is going to evolve.
And in many cases, it’s happening sooner than you might think.
INTERNET CONTACT LENSES
One of Black Mirror’s best-known episodes, Nosedive, portrays a world where people wear special eye implants to keep themselves permanently online.
Everybody is part of a universal social ranking system, and rate one-another based on every one of their day-to-day actions.
China has already rolled out such a system, where everybody is tracked by computers and smartphones. But let’s dial that up a notch.
According to Dr Kaku, “internet contact lenses” will become a reality over the next few decades — and no matter what stage of life you’re at, they could be seriously advantageous.
“College students taking final exams — they will blink, and they will be online,” he said. “You’ll be able to recognise faces, meaning you’ll always know who you’re talking to.
“This is very handy. Let’s say you’re at a cocktail party and there are some very important people there, but you don’t know who they are. In the future, you will know exactly who to suck up to at any cocktail party.
“And this could be very handy on a blind date. Let’s say your blind date says he’s rich, single and available, but your contact lens says he’s three-times divorced, pays child support payments and is dead broke. These things could be very important in the future.”
Spending copious amounts of time studying a new language? The contact lenses will make such a skill obsolete.
“If they’re speaking Greek or Chinese — no problem. Your contact lens will translate it into any language you want.”
TRIPS TO THE MOON
Earth isn’t going to be around forever — and eventually, humans are undoubtedly going to have to up and leave, if not perish entirely.
The question is when exactly it happens.
“Five billion years from now, the Earth will be eaten up by the sun,” Dr Kaku said. “On a scale of 50 million years, we will have to worry about asteroid collision. On a scale of 10,000 years, we have to worry about ice ages. Over the next few decades, we’ll have to worry about global warming and nuclear proliferation.
“We need a backup plan. I’m not saying we should abandon or evacuate the Earth — that’s too expensive. But we need an insurance policy. And it’s getting cheaper and cheaper every year.
“Elon Musk last year said he’d build his own rocket ship to go to the moon and to Mars. I predict that, in the future, our grandchildren will be able to honeymoon on the moon. Prices are dropping like a rock. We have three moon rockets capable of going to the moon.”
INDIVIDUAL COUNTRIES WILL CEASE TO EXIST
Humans are slowly evolving towards being a planetary whole rather than split into 195 countries.
“We like to rank things by energy — that’s what physicists do,” Dr Kaku said. “So a Type 1 civilisation is planetary — they control the weather, they control the atmosphere and the atmospheric geological phenomenon on their planet.
“A Type 2 civilisation is stellar — they control the output of an entire star, like in Star Trek. The Federation of Planets is a type 2 civilisation.
“Type 3 is galactic. These creatures roam the galactic space lanes, like in Star Wars.”
So, where is humanity on this grand scale right now? “We’re Type 0. We don’t even rate on the scale,” he said. “We get our energy from dead plants, coal and oil. But I do think we’re about 100 years away from Type 1.
“For example, look at the internet. The internet is the beginning of a planetary telephone system. It’s the first major Type 1 technology to fall into our century. And take a look at the language. What language will this Type 1 planetary civilisation speak? We know English and Mandarin Chinese are the two most dominant languages on the internet. And take a look at sport, entertainment — on sport we have the Olympics, we have soccer. Take a look at fashion — we have Gucci, Chanel. Even planetary music is being developed.
“We’re talking about a planetary culture being created right before our eyes and I think in another 100 years we will become a planetary civilisation.”
A DIGITISED TIME MACHINE
When you think of “time travel”, you might imagine walking into a huge, clunky machine and being physically transported as a whole into another time and place.
Time travel will become a reality — but instead of your whole physical body, it’ll be a digital version of yourself.
“One day we will digitise the human body — our memories, our brain cells,” Dr Kaku said. “With all that information, we will create a carbon copy of ourselves. You will go to the library, and instead of reading a book about Winston Churchill, you will talk to Winston Churchill in his digitised form.
“We can take this information, put it on a laser beam and shoot it to the moon. In one second, you’re on the moon. In 20 minutes, you’re on Mars. In six hours, you’re on Pluto. In four years, you’re on the nearby stars.”
Aliens, he says, are already taking advantage of this.
“Aliens in outer space, they don’t deal with flying saucers. That’s so 20th century. They digitise themselves — shoot their consciousness at the speed of light across an intergalactic laser highway, and if there’s a laser highway next to us, we are too stupid to even know it’s there. We don’t have the instruments capable of detecting a laser highway where billions of souls rocket at the speed of light throughout the galaxy.”
There’s a chilling Black Mirror episode in which an investigator accidentally uncovers an old murder through a technology that can record memories.
That is, the subject is hooked up to a machine, asked to visualise their memories in their mind’s eye, and that visual is then reproduced on a video screen in front of them.
Dr Kaku points out that this technology isn’t just coming. It’s already here.
“We can now record memories. This is amazing. The first memory we recorded was two years ago, and it can be sent to the internet.
“The future of the internet will be ‘brain-net’. We will be able to send emotions, feelings and sensations through the internet. By looking at the physics of blood-flow in the thinking brain, we can actually see thoughts as they’re created in the living brain.”
Earlier this year, research from the University of Toronto in Scarborough found scientists could now use electrophysiological data to reconstruct images of faces we look at.
In other words, their brainwaves were recorded and these images were digitally recreated using technology.
It’s not quite as advanced as what Dr Kaku was talking about, but certainly a step in that direction.
Such technology has all sorts of implications for the future.
“An Alzheimer’s patient will push a button and memories will come flooding back into their hippocampus and they’ll remember who they are,” Dr Kaku said.
But this could prove problematic.
“At MIT they inserted the first false memory, which raises all sorts of ethical considerations,” he said. “One day you will go into the CD or video store and you’ll get the vacation you never had. However, it has to be clearly marked: this vacation is fake, you never went to Cancun or Hawaii.
“But what happens when you remove that? The memories can then become all mixed up. Police will have a hard time solving crimes. Witness accounts of memories can’t be trusted anymore.
“It’s a very, very powerful technology, but we have to be careful with it.”
There’s an often-told story about post-apocalyptic monsters made of metal shards on a mission to wipe out the good guys. According to Dr Kaku, this is little more than fictional entertainment — but elements of it could ring true down the track.
“I think we’ve been brainwashed by Hollywood into thinking Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to come after us in a Terminator outfit and destroy humanity.
“In reality, one of our most advanced robots today is called Asimo. He can run, jump, climb stairs and even dance. I had the chance to interview the creator of the world’s most advanced robot. He said his creation had the intelligence of a cockroach.”
Well that’s reassuring, right? Not so fast.
“As the years go by, soon that robot will be as smart as a mouse. Then it will be as smart as a rabbit. Then it will be as smart as a cat or dog. Then a monkey.
“By the end of the century, they could become dangerous. Because monkeys know they are monkeys — they have self-awareness. I think when our robots become as a smart as a monkey we should put a chip in them and shut them off — if they have murderous thoughts.”
He did reassure us that there’s at least another 100 years before we reach that stage, but still.
When you think of immortality, you might imagine somebody ageless and enviably wrinkle-free surviving through centuries of destruction. You might think of Christopher Lambert in Highlander. Or fairies. Or cockroaches withstanding nuclear bombs.
According to Dr Kaku, immortality is coming to humanity sooner than you think — both in the digital sense, and even in the physical biological sense.
Pop culture has made reference to this for decades. There’s a 1998 scene from Friends where Ross is trying to flirt with Janine, Joey’s new roommate, and evokes a bit of scientific trivia. “By the year 2030, there’ll be computers that can carry out the same amount of functions as an actual human brain. So, theoretically, you could download your thoughts and memories into this computer and live forever as a machine,” he says.
His mates dismissed him, but it turns out Ross was actually onto something.
“Already in Silicone Valley, there are companies offering to digitise everything that’s known about you — your credit card records, Instagram pictures, everything,” Dr Kaku said. “And the Human Connectome Project will map the entire brain.
“Just last month, scientists were able to digitise the brain of a fruit fly — that’s 100,000 neurons. We have 100 billion neurons in our brains, and that could be digitised by the end of the century, and then we’ll become immortal. We’ll be able to duplicate your emotions, your feelings.
“The question then is, is that really you? Well, it depends on how you define ‘you’. If you are a biological entity, then this immortality is like a tape recorder. But if ‘you’ is a sum total of all your dreams, feelings, memories and desires — if your soul can be reduced to information — then you can live forever.”
In other words, it’s a bit like creating a digital carbon copy of yourself — a concept Black Mirror flirted with several times, like in San Junipero, where people are recreated in a digital afterlife when they die.
“One day in the library, your great great great grandchildren will want to talk to you, and you will be able to talk back to your great great great grandchildren. That’s digital immortality.”
Immortality in the more traditional sense — physically living forever — isn’t out of the question either.
“We’re making great strides in that area. One day we’ll digitise millions of old people and millions of young people, look at where all the mistakes are, and then use genetic engineering to cure those mistakes. So I think a form of immortality is not too far off in the distance.”