Renowned scientist leaves audience in awe
Eleven hundred science enthusiasts from across the Valley filtered into UTPA’s Fieldhouse Tuesday, forming a line that stretched all the way to the former Fine Arts Auditorium. People were there to see world-renowned Michio Kaku’s presentation. Another 400 watched a live stream of the event from the Student Union after the venue reached capacity.
The presentation covered the science and possible technologies of the near future, topics straight from Kaku’s newest book, The Physics of the Future.
Kaku’s presentation kicked off the 8th season of the annual Distinguished Speakers Series, a program which brings notable and influential individuals to campus to speak, such as Bill Clinton and Maya Angelou in the past. The event was free and open to the public.
The night opened with words by Kenneth Buckman, UTPA’s associate provost for student engagement and experiential learning and chair of the Speaker Series. He delivered a short speech on wonder and humankind’s pursuit of knowledge.
“We have an infinite number of alternative universes right next to us where all possibilities play out,” said Buckman, a former philosophy professor and leader of the Guerra Honors Program.
Upon walking on stage, Kaku commented on his inclusion in New York Magazine’s list of 100 smartest people.
“But in all fairness, I have to admit Madonna also made that list,” he joked. “And I understand that Lady Gaga is going to push me off that list entirely.”
Kaku went on to talk about the predictive nature of physics and physicists, joking and quoting the likes of Yogi Berra and Woody Allen. He illustrated how technology gets introduced in waves, which eventually leads to economic failure, and used the Great Depression and the recession of 2008 as examples. Kaku stated that there were three innovation waves in the past: steam, electricity and computers. He predicted that humanity is nearing a fourth wave.
“The fourth wave, we think, will be a combination of biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence,” said the scientist, who helped form Superstring theory and pioneered String Field Theory.
Moore’s Law was also a staple of Kaku’s presentation. The theory proposes throughout the history of computers that the number of transistors on circuits will double every two years, in effect causing computing power to double every two years.
“Your cellphone today has more computer power than all of NASA in 1969,” he said. “In 2020, computer chips will cost a penny. That’s the cost of scrap paper.”
Augmented reality was a technology that he discussed in depth, saying that in the future people will wear glasses connected to the Internet that show them information on the people and things around them, as well as serve as an instant translator.
However, Kaku explained a problem with these AR glasses: some people do not like glasses, after which, he changed the slide to a diagram of an augmented reality contact lens, to which there was an audible gasp from the audience.
The future of medical technology was also discussed in depth. Kaku claimed that in the near future, nanomachines, which are machines so small they cannot be seen, will be used to eradicate tumors as a much safer, more effective and more comfortable alternative to chemotherapy.
Additionally, medical professionals will soon be able to grow organs from an individual’s own cells – organs that can be transplanted with no possibility of rejection.
Kaku also proposed that humans may be able to stop the aging process.
“Aging is error, the build up of genetic and cellular error,” he said. “But the body has error correcting mechanisms. We can accentuate these error-correcting mechanisms. Right now, we have doubled the lifespan of every animal we’ve tested.”
Mike Portillo, a 23-year-old physics major at STC, traveled from Weslaco to watch the presentation.
“It felt like coming to a rock concert,” Portillo said. “It means more people (in the Valley) are open to science.”
After the completion of Kaku’s speech, the floor opened for questions from the audience.
“We should consider the negative consequences (of technology)… We should not emphasize the consumptive uses of technology,” posed one member of the audience.
“Science is a sword,” Kaku responded. “It’s the most powerful sword we have. But it could cut against you unless you’re careful.”
After Kaku’s predictions the audience left in a combination of wonder, excitement and awe.
“In the future, when you walk into a room you will mentally control everything around you,” Kaku said. “Just like a magician. Just like a God.”