US Futurologist Michio Kaku 'Eternal Life Does Not Violate the Laws of Physics'

A vision of the future from the film "Sunshine."

A vision of the future from the film "Sunshine."

Part 2: 'It's Nice to be Superman for an Afternoon'

SPIEGEL: Okay, back to the toilet. What do I do when the toilet tells me that I have cancer cells?

Kaku: You talk to the wallpaper, and you say…

SPIEGEL: Excuse me, but you talk to the wallpaper?

Kaku: As I mentioned, everything will be intelligent, even the wallpaper. You talk to the wallpaper, and you say, "I want to see my doctor." Boom! A doctor appears on the wall. It's a RoboDoc, which looks like a doctor, talks like a doctor, but it's actually an animated figure. It will tell you what is going on in your body and answers all medical questions with 99 percent accuracy, because it has the medical histories of everyone on the planet available.

SPIEGEL: Will we also have robot driving instructors and robot cooks?

Kaku: Yes, of course.

SPIEGEL: But aren't robots still rather dumb, even after 50 years of research into artificial intelligence?

Kaku: That's true. ASIMO, the best robot around today has the intelligence of a cockroach. However, that will change. In the coming decades, robots will be as smart as mice. Now, mice are very smart. They can scurry around, hide behind things, look for food. I can see that in 10, 20, 30 years, we will start to have mice robots, then rabbit robots, cat robots, dog robots, finally monkey robots maybe by the end of the century. They will do dirty, dull and dangerous jobs for us. That means they have to feel pain too.

SPIEGEL: Are you talking about machines with the ability to suffer?

Kaku: We will have to build robots with pain sensors in them, because we don't want them to destroy themselves.

SPIEGEL: Then won't we have to start talking about robot rights?

Kaku: Once we design robots that can feel pain, that's a tricky point. At that point, people will say, "Well, they're just like dogs and cats."

SPIEGEL: When will machines become a threat, like HAL from the movie '2001?'

Kaku: At some point we can plant a chip in their electronic brains that shuts them down when they start to develop dangerous plans.

SPIEGEL: But won't they be intelligent enough to take the chip out themselves?

Kaku: Sure, but that won't happen until after 2100.

SPIEGEL: How comforting.

Kaku: Then we always have the option of making ourselves even smarter.

SPIEGEL: Are you referring to the old science fiction idea that our brains are immeasurably smart?

Kaku: Exactly, and spending the whole day calculating Einstein's theory of relativity. I don't seriously believe that. It goes back to the caveman in us. What do cavemen want? Cavemen want to have the respect of their peers. They want to look good to the opposite sex. They want prestige. If we're stuck inside a computer calculating Einstein's theory of relativity, who wants that?

SPIEGEL: The idea that one day we will all be Supermen or Superwomen sounds really tempting though.

Kaku: I think what's going to happen is we will have avatars. They will have all these powers that we want -- to be perfect, superhuman and good looking.

SPIEGEL: Great! Does that mean we can send our avatars to meetings that we don't want to attend?

Kaku: You will send your avatars to the Moon or on virtual trips or whatever. But you also have the option of shutting it off and getting back to normal again. The average person will not necessarily want to be Superman, but they may want the option of being Superman for an afternoon. It's nice to be Superman for an afternoon, but then to say, hey, "let's go out and have a beer with friends." Do you see what I'm saying?

SPIEGEL: Yes, of course. Atavism beats out the avatar. But just how strong are these caveman impulses? Could there one day be a movement against all of this new technology?

Kaku: Such movements always accompany technological changes. When the telephone first came out, it was very controversial. Throughout history, we only talked to friends, relatives, kids. That's it, period. Then comes the telephone. There were many voices denouncing it, saying we had to go back to talking to our families, so on and so forth.

SPIEGEL: You claim in your book that we are the most important generation that has ever lived. Doesn't every generation think that?

Kaku: Out of all the generations that have walked the surface of the Earth, we're the only ones to witness the beginning of the process of becoming a planetary civilization. We decide whether humanity survives.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by "planetary civilization?"

Kaku: We physicists rank civilizations by energy. A Type 1 planetary civilization uses all the energy that is available on the planet. In a hundred years, we'll be Type 1. We're on our way there. We will control the weather. We will control earthquakes and volcanoes eventually. Anything planetary, we will control. Type 2 is stellar. We will control stars, like Star Trek. Then Type 3 is the entire galaxy, where we'll control the Milky Way galaxy.

SPIEGEL: Hold on a second. We aren't even close to that now!

Kaku: No, we are in a transition. We still get our energy from dead plants, oil and coal. Carl Sagan did a more precise calculation. He figured out that we're actually Type 0.7. So we're on the threshold of being Type 1. We will have two planetary languages, English and Mandarin. Look at the Olympics. That's planetary sports. Look at soccer, another planetary sport. The European Union is the beginning of a planetary economy, if it ever gets off the ground correctly.

SPIEGEL: We are having a few tiny problems with that last one.

Kaku: Well, nevertheless, when I look at the larger sweep of things, I see that we are already coming together. We're entering the birth of a planetary fashion and we are already seeing the birth of planetary culture. Democratization of the world marches on.

SPIEGEL: What is one thing from the world you imagine that you would like to have today?

Kaku: Well, I wouldn't mind having a few more decades to live and, for example, to see the first starship. Also, it's a shame that I cannot live in the 11th dimension.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?

Kaku: The energy of wormholes, black holes and of the Big Bang. You would have to be a Type 3 civilization before you can begin to manipulate that energy. That's the province of my field of research, string theory.

SPIEGEL: I think that's where we can no longer keep up. Professor Kaku, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Philip Bethge and Rafaela von Bredow


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