Michio Kaku has released his latest book, titled “The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.”
A new book by the famed physicist tells of great adventures ahead.
By Alissa Hiraga, Contributor
Mars colonization, the brilliance and menace of AI, humanity on the brink of extinction to salvation, the beauty and enormity of the universe — these dance in our minds as fantastically far-out mysteries and can be scary to think about. The popularity of science shows and podcasts are among the clues that show that humans want to unravel the mysteries of space and find a place in at all. Dr. Michio Kaku, professor, futurist and theoretical physicist, is a beloved figure in science for his ability to make complex, intimidating concepts accessible to all audiences. His best-selling books and talks reveal he is a scientist for the people, despite undeniable brilliance as co-founder of string field theory and work toward furthering Albert Einstein’s work on the fundamental forces of nature.
Alissa Hiraga for the Pacific Citizen had the opportunity to ask Dr. Kaku a few questions inspired from his engaging new book “The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.” Kaku’s new book is at once a hopeful, lively look into the future, a warning of the challenges humans as a species must overcome and a call to action on what mankind must do in order to thrive for millennia and beyond.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: Your book describes an exciting future for humanity while also pointing out that 99.9 percent of species eventually become extinct. What factors do you believe could cause humanity to fall prey to extinction and thus, short of the potential you describe in your book?
DR. MICHIO KAKU: We face both natural and self-inflicted disasters. Natural disasters include asteroid impacts, super volcanoes and ice ages. Self-inflicted ones include global warming, nuclear proliferation and bio-germ warfare.
Remember that the dinosaurs had no space program, so, 65 million years ago, an asteroid or meteor probably wiped them out. Hopefully, we will not face such a disaster, but we need a backup plan in case it happens.
We do not have to evacuate the entire planet any time soon. No need for a crash program that would take funds from badly needed programs.
For the present, we just need a settlement outside the Earth, an insurance policy, a plan B, in case something bad does happen.
We also should not go into space to avoid the greenhouse effect. These planetary problems are largely political and should be solved democratically and politically on the Earth.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: Much of what you describe in your book seems based on an assumption of continued exponential advances in technology. How will the tapering of Moore’s Law, which suggests that computing speed will double roughly every two years, affect the continued advancement of technology in the coming decades?
KAKU: The wealth of today’s society depends on Moore’s Law — computer power keeps on growing exponentially, but this cannot last forever. Eventually, transistors become the size of atoms, and silicon becomes useless.
Silicon Valley could become a rust belt. The age of silicon could be closing, and we need a new generation of computers, perhaps molecular or quantum computers. That’s why we physicists are furiously working on the next generation of computers.
Also, realize that the Space Race of the 1960s forced scientists to miniaturize computers. This, in turn, gave us the current computer revolution, with iPhones, the Internet, etc. Now, if we have a second golden age of space travel, perhaps a new generation of computers will emerge to energize the economy.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: As with many of your publications, you often reference both popular and lesser-known science fiction stories. What role does science fiction play in how you approach your work? What purpose do you believe it serves within our society?
KAKU: Science fiction inspires young people to become scientists. Edwin Hubble, who discovered the Expanding Universe theory, was a country lawyer who suddenly switched into astronomy. This was because he read Jules Verne as a child and was mesmerized by science fiction. Carl Sagan, the astronomer, was inspired by reading the “John Carter of Mars” series as a kid. Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, read “War of the Worlds” as a kid and was inspired to build rockets. So, science fiction often not only points the way to a possible future, it also inspires the young.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: The ambitions you describe in “The Future of Humanity” will be accomplished mostly by individuals and groups strongly educated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). What countries do you see as best positioned to lead humanity into the future you describe and what does the U.S. need to do to remain a leader for the future of humanity?
KAKU: There is a brain drain currently into the U.S. of top scientists, mainly via the H-1B visa. Silicon Valley is 50 percent foreign born. But, this cannot last forever. China is rapidly catching up in science and technology.
Within a few thousand years, we will become a Type II civilization, with stellar power, like in ‘Star Trek.’ ”
We must revise our science educational program to become modern and more relevant to peoples’ lives. Our educational system does a great job preparing us to live in the world of 1950. Unfortunately, we don’t live in 1950 anymore.
So, education is the weak link. Only 30 percent of the public graduates from college, and they do very well economically. We have to make sure that everyone has the chance of getting a great education, so they don’t see a decline in their standard of living.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: In your book, you touch upon the recent public exchange on the threat of artificial intelligence between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. You offer your own prediction of self-aware robots toward the end of this century or early next based on your theories regarding the necessary conditions for consciousness, as well as suggestions for preventing a “Terminator”-type machine revolt in the form of programming and fail-safes that could prevent such revolts. Are the “Three Laws of Robotics” that Issac Asimov articulates in “I-Robot” sufficient? If not, what changes or additions would you make to the Asimov rules so that AI programmers could prevent such revolts?
KAKU: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is right, that for many decades to come, AI will create jobs and prosperity. But eventually, robots will become self-aware and a threat to us by the end of the century, perhaps.
At that point, I think we need a fail-safe, a chip in their brain to shut them off if they have murderous thoughts. But, this crisis is still perhaps a century away. Right now, robots have the intelligence of a cockroach.
Eventually, they will be as smart as a mouse, rat, rabbit, cat and dog. When they reach monkey intelligence, we need to put a chip in their brain to shut them off just in case.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: The Drake Equation, designed to estimate the number of communicating civilizations in the cosmos, suggests that a key reason we have not discovered intelligent life could be that intelligent life may have an inclination toward self-annihilation shortly after becoming technologically advanced. As you envision how humanity may evolve socially and culturally over the coming decades and centuries, how do you feel about our ability to become a functioning multiplanetary species in time to mitigate the risk of any self-inflicted causes of extinction here on Earth?
KAKU: We face many self-inflicted dangers until around the end of the century. Our savage, Type 0 civilization will then become a planetary Type I civilization, with planetary politics and culture to deal collectively with these problems. Right now, we are a fragmented Type 0 civilization, with all the savagery of fundamentalism, nationalism, sectarianism, etc. But by the end of the century, we should become planetary, and hence many of these problems will be resolved. (Within a few thousand years, we will become a Type II civilization, with stellar power, like in “Star Trek”). Within a hundred thousand years, we might become a Type III civilization, a galactic one, like in “Star Wars.”
So, the most dangerous period is the transition from a fragmented Type 0 civilization to a Type I planetary civilization.
PACIFIC CITIZEN: Your passion and enthusiasm for your chosen profession repeatedly comes through in both your published and televised works, and it serves as an inspiration for people of all ages and backgrounds. You talked about your father’s incarceration in a Japanese American internment camp. What impact did your family’s experiences have on your childhood, how you approach your life and your profession?
KAKU: My parents were locked up in Tule Lake, Calif., from 1942-46. After they left the camps, they were penniless, with nothing. So, as a child, I realized that we were not rich and that if I was to succeed in life, I would have to do it myself.
But my parents never held a grudge or felt self-pity or anger. Their attitude was the past is the past, and that we must forge on, to make sure that such disasters do not happen again, and also to bring honor to our people.
For more information on Dr. Michio Kaku and his works, visit http://mkaku.org.