Are Robonauts Better Than Astronauts?

Theoretical Physicist, Author, and Science Educator

Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.

  • Transcript


Michio Kaku: When you saw the movie Surrogates you said, “Well, that’s science fiction” when Bruce Willis has a mechanical robot who is perfect. Absolutely perfect.  Handsome with superpowers and you put your consciousness into the robot.  So you go into a pod.  Your body ages.  Your body is strapped to a pod but you mentally control an avatar, a surrogate who has superpowers, perfectly formed and has all your abilities.  This sounds like science fiction, right?  Or the movie Avatar where again you’re put inside a pod and you control an alien being on another planet breathing poisonous air.  Is that possible?  The answer is definitely yes.  In Japan scientists at Honda Corporation have made a robot called ASIMO.  It’s one of the most advanced robots ever made.

ASIMO, the size of a young boy, can run, walk, climb up stairs and even dance.  In fact he dances better than me.  I’ve been on science specials with him and he out-dances me every time.  Honda Corporation has now taken a worker, put on an EEG helmet and have him control the robot.  So it’s now possible that you can have a surrogate.  This could be the future of the space program.  Why is outer space not opened up for tourists?  Because of a dirty four letter word that begins with C – cost.  It costs ten thousand dollars to put a pound of anything in near Earth orbit.  That is your weight in gold.  Think of your body made out of solid gold.  That’s what it costs to put you in near Earth orbit.  To put you on the moon costs about a hundred thousand dollars a pound.  And to put you on Mars is about a million dollars a pound.  So you’re talking about your weight in diamonds to go to the planet Mars.

Why not put a surrogate?  Because it’s life support.  Life support that makes things so expensive in outer space.  You see, robots don’t have to breathe.  They don’t have to eat.  They don’t bellyache.  And most important, they don’t have to come back.  So why not put surrogates on Mars, surrogates on the Moon and you the astronaut can just take a breather and go into your living room and mentally communicate with a robot on the Moon.  This would be by far the cheapest way to have a permanent Moon base and that would be, to you the astronaut, communicating with a surrogate by radio.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton