Michio Kaku is a physicist and a futurist — and to him, they are the same thing. The innovations of physicists have shaped and reshaped the modern world as we know it, and, according to Kaku, we're at the edge of another wave of transformation.
Kaku spoke at The Minneapolis Foundation's Futurist Conference on Sept. 18, and shared his vision of how technology will shape the future.
One thing is certain: It will happen quickly. The computer chip inside those singing "Happy Birthday" cards has more computing power than all of the Allied forces did in 1945. Your cell phone has more computing power than all of NASA did when it sent a man to the moon. At that rate, Kaku says, imagine what will be possible by 2020.
On how the availability of information will change education
The computer simply makes knowledge and facts available, but how you sift through it — and come up with fundamental ideas — that requires thought. The difference between a scientist and an experimenter is that a real scientist takes the raw data and comes up with a theory that explains this mass of data.
That's where education is going to have to go in a different direction. We don't want to flood our kids with useless information. In the future, when you want to see the periodic chart of elements, it will be right there in your contact lens. Why do we have to memorize the periodic chart when it's only a blink away? But how you use it — how you use the periodic chart of elements — that's what we're going to teach in the future.
On how to inspire innovation
I do a lot of traveling, and in a lot of countries they're trying to recreate Silicon Valley. They're investing billions of dollars, but there's a problem. In Asia, there's a saying: "A nail that sticks out gets hammered down." If you're the future Bill Gates or the future Steve Jobs, and you're the nail that sticks out, you'll get hammered down.
In the West, we have the expression, 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease,' which is the opposite of the paradigm in Asia. If Asia wants to become a leader, rather than a follower, it will have to create the genius of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, which means you have to allow these iconoclasts and innovators to flourish, rather than hammering the nail down.
On the next wave of technological advances
The question today is: what is the fourth wave? The first wave was steam power, the second wave was electricity, the third wave was high technology — all of it unleashed by physicists. What is the fourth wave of wealth generation? It's going to be on the molecular level: nanotech, biotech and artificial intelligence.
On capitalism and technology
What about the digitalization of capitalism? The first industry to be digitalized was music — with horrible consequences. The music industry said: "Ha! People will always buy music the old fashioned way." Wrong.
You know who controls the music industry today? It's Apple through iTunes. What's the lesson here? The lesson is that you are free to ignore everything I've been telling you. You're also free to go bankrupt.
Music was first, now it's media. Radio, television, all of that is being digitized. The New York Times a decade ago bought the Boston Globe for about a billion dollars. Many people thought it was a great purchase. The New York Times two months ago sold the Boston Globe for 10 percent of what it paid for it. It was a billion-dollar loss. What's the lesson here? The lesson is, "Don't bet against technology."
Be a surfer. Ride the wave of technology, see the wave coming, get on the wave. If you go against the wave of technology, you will wipe out and lose a billion dollars.
Then the question: what is next? Music was first, today it's media, in the future it will be transportation, medicine and education.
To hear Kaku's predictions for the future — from intelligent wallpaper to glasses with instant face recognition — listen to the full audio presentation above.