Imagine being able to access the Internet through the contact lenses on your eyeballs. Blink, and you'd be online. Meet someone, and you'd have the ability to immediately search their identity. And if your friend happens to be speaking a different language, an instantaneous translation could appear directly in front of you.
That might sound farfetched, but it's something that might very well exist in 30 years or less, says theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
"The first people to buy these contact lenses will be college students studying for final exams," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "They'll see the exam answers right in their contact lenses. ... In a cocktail party, you will know exactly who to suck up to, because you'll have a complete read out of who they are. President Barack Obama will buy these contact lenses, so he'll never need a teleprompter again. ... These already exist in some form [in the military]. You place [a lens] on your helmet, you flip it down, and immediately you see the Internet of the battlefield ... all of it, right on your eyeball."
But Internet-ready contact lenses aren't the only futuristic item we're likely to see. Kaku describes some of the inventions that may appear throughout the coming century — based on developments currently taking place in nanotechnology, astronautics, medicine and material science — in his book Physics of the Future. Kaku details some of these inventions, including disposable computers, space elevators and driverless cars — which will likely be ready in the next decade and will completely eliminate the need for high school driver's ed classes.
"In the future, you'll simply jump into your car, turn on the Internet, turn on a movie and sit back and relax and turn on the automatic pilot, and the car will drive itself," he says. "Unlike a human driver, it doesn't get drunk, it doesn't get distracted and certainly does not have road rage."
The cars will be equipped with radar in the fenders that will communicate with road signs and sensors along highways.
"When the car comes to an intersection, the GPS system will alert the computer [inside the car] that there is an intersection coming up," he says. "[The GPS system] will look onto the [roadside] sensor and then slow down."
Kaku also explains how, in the future, our brains might be able to interface with artificial intelligence. He describes one study in which computer chips were placed into the brains of paralyzed stroke patients at Brown University. The patients learned that by thinking certain thoughts, they could manipulate a cursor on a computer screen.
"It takes awhile — it takes a few hours — but after a while, you realize that certain thoughts will move the cursor in certain directions," he says. "After a while ... [the patients] were able to read email, write email, surf the Internet, play video games, guide wheelchairs — anything you can do on a computer, they can do as well, except they're trapped inside a paralyzed body."
Similar technology could be used in the future to control robots that can go places where humans can't, says Kaku.
"It's very dangerous to put astronauts on a moon base where there's radiation, solar flares and micro meteorites," he says. "It'd be much better to put robots on the moon and have them mentally connected to astronauts on the Earth. So you'd go inside a pod, you mentally make certain thoughts, which then [could] control the robots on the moon."
Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics with the City College of New York, also talks about his childhood, his work with Edward Teller, a member of the Manhattan Project, and his work on the development of string field theory. He is the author of several books, including Physics of the Impossible, Parallel Worlds and Beyond Einstein. He has also hosted scientific documentaries for the Discovery Channel, the BBC and the Science Channel.
On Moore's Law and the future
"I'm a physicist, and we have something called Moore's Law, which says computer power doubles every 18 months. So every Christmas, we more or less assume that our toys and appliances are more or less twice as powerful as the previous Christmas. For example, your cellphone has more computer power than all of NASA when they put two men on the moon in 1969. And a birthday card that sings 'Happy Birthday' to you — that birthday card has a chip in it with more computer power than all the Allied Forces of 1945. Hitler, Stalin, Churchill would have killed to get that chip that you simply throw away in the garbage. Because of Moore's Law, we physicists can project 10, 15 years into the future with near mathematical precision."
On recorded memories
"Two months ago, history was made when [scientists] were able to put a memory directly into a mouse. This is the first time in history it has been done — it's something right out of science fiction. What they did was, they looked at the hippocampus of a mouse, and tape-recorded impulses as it learned a task. That's the gateway for memory: All memories first go through the hippocampus. They tape-recorded the impulses. Then they gave it a chemical which made the mouse forget the task. Then they took this tape-recording, shot it back into the mouse, and the mouse immediately knew how to do the task.
"This is the first time it has been demonstrated that you can actually tape-record a memory and then reinsert the memory into a mouse and have the mouse perform the task that it previously forgot. The implications of this are enormous. ... It means that memories, in principle, might be tape-recorded and then shot right back into your brain or somebody else's brain."
On building a particle accelerator in his garage in high school
"When I was 16 years old, I assembled a 2.3 million electron volt beta particle accelerator. I went to Westinghouse, I got 400 pounds of translator steel, 22 miles of copper wire, and I assembled a 6-kilowatt, 2.3 million electron accelerator in the garage. When it was finished, I would plug it in, there was this huge crackling sound as I consumed 6 kilowatts of power, I blew out every circuit breaker in the house. All the lights were plunged in darkness. And my poor mom would come home every night, see the lights flicker and die, and say to herself, 'Why couldn't I have a son who plays baseball?' "