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.
Question: What are some futuristic inventions that we’ll see In our lifetime?
Michio Kaku: So you ask a simple question. Invisibility: just decades away we will have something resembling Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.
Something equally astonishing is shape-shifting. When you see science fiction movies like "Terminator II" and you see the evil robot turn into jelly and then ooze its way through obstacles, you say to yourself "No way, no way can that happen." Believe it or not, we scientists are making huge inroads into that area. It’s called programmable matter. Matter itself that can rearrange itself, change color, change shape, change conductivity by pushing a button. And here is how it works: Why is it that certain substances can turn liquid and ooze its way across the room like in the movie "Terminator II?" It’s because of atoms. Atoms can slide over atoms, rearrange themselves, but what happens if atoms are replaced by chips, chips that are so small they’re smaller than the head of a pin. And you can change their electric charge. By changing the electric charge they bind and reform in different ways and they’re intelligent because each dot is a computer chip perhaps as powerful as a PC. These are called catoms and who is pushing this technology? The Intel Corporation, the makers of the famous Pentium chip that drives your laptop. The same company is now investigating the next several steps in the future, the ability to have programmable matter.
Now think about it. It means that if I have a clump of clay made of thousands of millions of little dots I push a button then the charges rearrange themselves to form a statue, a car, whatever you want. This means that I can push another button and this clay turns into a house or I push another button and a whole city, a whole city rises out of the desert. Sounds like science fiction, but the basic steps are being done today. And in fact, with a television crew I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and photographed it. Of course these catoms are quite large. They’re about the size of a head of a pin, but it’s only a matter of time before these catoms become so microscopic and so powerful that they’ll be able to rearrange just like what you see in "Terminator II," just like what you see in the "Transformers," just like what you see in X-men comics.
Recorded on September 29, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman