By 2020, the word “computer” will have vanished from the English language, physicist Michio Kaku predicts. Every 18 months, computer power doubles, he notes, so in eight years, a microchip will cost only a penny. Instead of one chip inside a desktop, we’ll have millions of chips in all our possessions: furniture, cars, appliances, clothes. Chips will become so ubiquitous that “we won’t say the word ‘computer,’” prophesies Mr. Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York. “We’ll simply turn things on.”
Mr. Kaku, who is 65, enjoys making predictions. In his latest book, “Physics of the Future,” which Anchor released in paperback in February, he predicts driverless cars by 2020 and synthetic organs by 2030. If his forecasts sound strange, Mr. Kaku understands the skepticism. “If you could meet your grandkids as elderly citizens in the year 2100,” he offers, “you would view them as being, basically, Greek gods.” Nonetheless, he says, “that’s where we’re headed,” —and he worries that the U.S. will fall behind in this technological onrush.
To comprehend the world we’re entering, consider another word that will disappear soon: “tumor.” “We will have DNA chips inside our toilet, which will sample some of our blood and urine and tell us if we have cancer maybe 10 years before a tumor forms,” Mr. Kaku says. When you need to see a doctor, you’ll talk to a wall in your home, and “an animated, artificially intelligent doctor will appear.” You’ll scan your body with a hand-held MRI machine, the “Robodoc” will analyze the results, and you’ll receive “a diagnosis that is 99 percent accurate.”
In this “augmented reality,” as Mr. Kaku calls it, the Internet will be in your contact lens. “You will blink, and you will go online,” he says. “That’s going to change everything.” Students will look up the answers to tests while taking them. Actors will cheat from their scripts while performing onstage. Foreigners will translate their conversations with natives instantly. Job-seekers will identify “who to suck up to at any cocktail party” surreptitiously. And President Obama “will never have to have teleprompters in front of him,” he jokes.
Although these gadgets seem light years away, Mr. Kaku insists that they’re “coming very, very fast.” The military already has a prototype of the contact lens called “Land Warrior.” In 2010, he tried out the device while filming a special for the Science channel, on which he appears regularly. The Land Warrior is a helmet with an eyepiece that allows the wearer to see the entire battlefield. “You see friendly forces, enemy forces, artillery, aircraft, everything,” Mr. Kaku says, “just by flicking it down right over your eye.”
As he describes the eyepiece, Mr. Kaku peers at me through his cupped hand. We’re sitting in a side room off the lobby of his high-rise overlooking the Hudson River. With his silver-gray hair tossed behind his ears, he makes quick gestures to illustrate his points. And he laughs constantly. Despite his enthusiasm for science’s successes, he also finds humor in its failures.