Michio Kaku
Professor of Theoretical Physics, CUNY

The Energy of the Future

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Michio Kaku

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.


Michio Kaku: We are children when we talk about the cosmic scale of energies throughout the entire universe. You realize that if we just take the sunlight, the sunlight that hits the earth, the total amount of energy we get from the sun, that’s many order of magnitude larger than the entire energy generation of the earth itself. That’s how primitive we are.

However, the Soviet Astrophysicist, Nikolai Kardashev tried to rank civilization on the basis of how much energy we extract from the stars. For example, a type I civilization will be a civilization that takes all the energy that lands on the earth and energizes its machines and cities with that energy. We are perhaps 100 years away from even obtaining that first landmark. So in other words, we are a Type 0 civilization far from being able to harness the power of the sun. We use dead plants, oil and coal, to energize our machines. But in about 100 years time, the energy output of the earth will be comparable to the total amount of sunlight that hits the earth itself.

Then we have Type II. And that’s what you allude to in your questions. A Type II civilization can harness the entire power of the sun itself using the gigantic thermal nuclear furnace at the center of the sun to energize our machines. So a Type II civilization would be several thousand years ahead of our given the fact that we grow at the rate of maybe 3 percent a year in terms of our energy generation. In fact, physicist, Freeman Dyson, even postulated that perhaps a gigantic sphere could be placed around a mother star which would absorb all of the sunlight given off from that star. That’s a Type II civilization and that’s called a Dyson Sphere.

Now, if you take a look at Star Trek and the Federation of Planets, at that level, in the 23rd and 24th century, we may be able to actually use the energy of the star itself to power our machines. And then according to the Kardashev scale, there’s also Type III, which is Galactic, which you also referred to in your question. It’s a civilization that is perhaps 10 to 100 billion times more powerful than a Type II civilization; a civilization that harnesses the entire galaxy itself using the thermonuclear furnaces of each star to energize our machines. For example the Empire of the Empire Strikes Back, would be an example of a Type III civilization.

Then there’s speculation that there could be Type IV - extragalactic power. Now you may say to yourself, how could that be? We only have planets, stars and galaxies. How can there be a source of energy even beyond the galaxy itself? Well there is an energy source even larger than the galaxy and that is dark energy. Dark energy in fact makes up 73 percent of the universe’s energy. Dark matter makes up 23 percent of the energy of the universe, and what about stars, the question that you allude to? Stars only make up four percent of the energy and matter of the universe.

In the far future, perhaps when we harness extra galactic energy, dark energy, then perhaps we can harness the energy of the Big Bang itself. Because dark energy, we think is responsible for the expansion of the universe. The evolution of the universe itself we think is driven by something called dark energy. This invisible energy that pulls the galaxies apart, creates the expanding universe - the energy of nothing.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

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