Renowned physicist offers insights to ANSEP audience

  • Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, best-selling author of eight books and renowned futurist, was the keynote speaker at the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program’s Dissemination Conference Jan. 19 at the University of Alaska Anchorage. (Photo/Naomi Klouda/AJOC)

Artificial intelligence will soon allow you to blink and access the internet through a contact lens.

Oil wells will be outfitted with smart technology to communicate its structural flaws or a leak.

Cars outfitted with computers will drive us everywhere.

These were some of the predictions of Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, best-selling author of eight books and renowned futurist who was the keynote speaker at the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program’s Dissemination Conference Jan. 19 at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The conference brought 54 middle school students, ANSEP university students and 90 attendees from nine universities to Anchorage.

Among his many accomplishments, Kaku co-founded the string field theory, a subset of Albert Einstein’s quest to solve the holy grail of modern physics. He was in Alaska to help motivate ANSEP students to develop their own formula for their success.

The popular star of science programs described several technological innovations afoot in science that will change life in the next 50 years. Robotics replacing humans in that time period, however, isn’t one of them.

“It might happen by the end of this century when you have grandkids,” he told a crowd of about 600 people ranging from sixth graders to post-graduates. “We put animals in zoos. We don’t want that to happen to us, for our machines to put us behind bars. That’s a long-term threat. How smart is our most advanced robot? They currently have the intelligence of a retarded cockroach.

“One day they will be as smart as a mouse. After that, as smart as a rabbit, then a cat, then a dog. By end of the century, they may be as smart as a monkey. At that point they could be dangerous. I think we have a long way to go before they will be dangerous.”

Kaku’s own love for science was realized as a child when, at age 8, he observed a news account on the death of a prominent scientist.

“His name was all in the newspapers. In the newspaper there was a picture — a picture of his desk. On the desk was a book. The caption said this is the unfinished theory of our greatest scientist. I said ‘why couldn’t he finish it? What was so hard and why couldn’t he finish it?” Kaku recalled. “The scientist was Albert Einstein. The book was his unfinished Unified Field Theory.”

That’s when he realized he wanted to become a scientist and continue Einstein’s unfinished work.

That’s what he’s been doing ever since, though Einstein’s unified field theory still isn’t considered finished.

Growing up in San Jose, Calif., Kaku, who was born in 1947, recounted his early life as one of two children of Japanese-Americans.

“During World War II, my parents were locked up from 1942-1946 because they originally came from Japan. They were locked up for four years. All their assets confiscated. They were flat broke. When I grew up, I realized if I am going to do anything with my life, I’m going to have to do it myself,” he said.

Kaku assembled a particle accelerator or “atom smasher” in his parent’s garage for a science project while he attended high school in Palo Alto. His goal was to generate a “beam of gamma rays powerful enough to create anti-matter.”

Instead, he caused all the house fuses to short out.

But he attracted the attention of Edward Teller, a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist known as the father of the atom bomb, while at the National Science Fair in Albuquerque, N.M., who took Kaku under wing and awarded him the Hertz Engineering Scholarship.

In 1968, Kaku graduated from Harvard first in his class. He attended Berkley Radiation Laboratory at the University of California Berkley and received his Ph.D. in 1972.

He is currently professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York as well as the science correspondent for most all major news channels.

“We are all born scientists,” Kaku told the audience at ANSEP. “We come into the world wanting to know why the sun shines, why do the stars blink. Where we come from. Then we begin to explore the world. Then we hit the greatest destroyer of scientists. That is junior high school. It’s destroyed more scientist than any other institution known to scientists.”

Memorizing parts of a flower and facts from the periodic table of elements kills off the innate scientist, he said. But the world needs its scientists. Scientists are the ones who supplied the wealth for 19th and 20th centuries, he said.

They invented television, radar, microwaves, CAT scans, MRI’s and the GPS satellite, as well as the transistor and the laser. They created the world wide web and assembled the internet, he added.

Telepathic communication is coming next. He predicts the internet will be replaced by something called BrainNet.

“Computer power doubles every 18 months,” he said. “By the year 2030, chips will be scattered like electricity. You don’t think about electricity, in the walls and under your feet. It disappears; it’s everywhere and nowhere.”

Likewise the internet will be everywhere and nowhere. Glasses will be worn that recognize people’s faces, a biography next to the image. Already, solders use goggles that feed info via the internet, he said. Match.com will be instantly accessible to help people connect via sight and information fed through the nanotechnology.

It will be up to science teachers to teach concepts and principles rather than rout memorization, Kaku said. A college education will become more important than ever to meet the new demands in genetics, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

“The car will have a mind of its own. Your car is going to become intelligent. We’re going to live in a world where chips will be placed in everything, and AI will be placed in everything,” he said.

The demand for service, repairing and manufacturing jobs around the auto industry alone will generate millions of jobs, he said.

“The auto came along and wiped out the horse industry. But it opened a whole lot of industries,” he said.

Biotechnology and medicine will explode in the future, he said.

“There will be even more demand for nurses. Alzheimer’s is becoming the disease of the century. By the time you’re in your 80s, 30 to 40 percent of them have Alzheimer’s. Just naturally, a good fraction of all the baby boomers,” Kaku said.

Japan provides a preview of that. It’s a tremendous crisis hitting Europe and the U.S., requiring a surge of nursing needs and assisted living centers, he said.

New materials stronger than steel, such as graphene will assist in better engineering and construction of big infrastructure buildings and bridges.

“Energy has a direct impact on what’s happening here (in Alaska),” he said. “Oil wells of the future will become intelligent. They will be able to tell us ‘repair me. I’m getting old. I think there’s a leak in my left oil well.’ Instantaneous monitoring will increase efficiency to maintain them and to faze out when they need that.”

He welcomes the brave new world as one where goods and services are cheaper, and people will have access to better health.

All people have to do to become a billionaire in such a world is to take an industry, and isolate where the middlemen and aggravations frustrate consumers. Amazon, Uber and Airbnbs did this, Kaku said.

“Make a list of all the points that aggravate people. Cut through all the excess layers that are unnecessary,” he advised.

Biotech breakthroughs are soon to allow a search through millions of human genes to find which ones cause the aging process.

“We will be isolating where the genes of old people break down and cure these genes. Something close to immortality is a thing of the future,” he said.

If cancer can be detected in the blood, for example, it can alert people early on when they have 100 cancer cells or so in their bodies and not wait until 10 years later when the cells have multiplied into the billions.

“They can do that this year,” he said. “Now we have liquid biopsies available that detect cancer cells circulating in the blood. They will be able to spot it and the word tumor will disappear. We will no longer say ‘tumor’ like we no longer say ‘leaches’ and ‘bloodletting.’”

Naomi Klouda can be reached at naomi.klouda@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
01/24/2018 - 12:10pm

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