We're living in the second golden age of space exploration: Futurist Michio Kaku

Physics is the harmonies on a string... chemistry — the melody, and the universe, the symphony.

As Google I/O concludes today, we're saturated with news around Google-related products and everything Android Q and Pixel 3a, it was refreshing to sit in on a fireside chat which had nothing to do with Google.

Michio Kaku, American theoretical physicist, futurist and author and a popular science and space evangelist, spoke at length about everything from the photograph of the black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope to brain mapping to how we are in a second golden era of space exploration.

Were living in the second golden age of space exploration: Futurist Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku

On the discovery of the Black Hole

Photographing the shadow of the black hole is just the beginning, according to Kaku.

The co-founder of the string-field theory — a branch of the string theory, Kaku has been a proponent of the multiverse (multiple universes) with a focus on the subject matter of what the universe was before the Big Bang. Kaku has maintained that the Big Bang was created either by the collision of different universes into one or the splitting of a universe into two.

Kaku said that back when he was at the University, black holes were considered as science fiction. But now with us having photographed it, the next task should be to explore what lies inside the black hole — Would it lead to a white hole which has been theorised as the other end of the black hole by some physicists? Would it be a wormhole? There is no way to find that out today, but Kaku thinks this should be the focus of the next generation of radio telescopes.

One of the major motivators for Kaku to pursue science was the chance to complete the unfinished work of Albert Einstein, who died when Kaku was still a school boy. In a news report, Kaku read that Einstein had left his last book unfinished, the "Theory of Everything". Kaku has been trying to finish the book ever since, and his research in String theory is where it has taken him, a theory still waiting to be proven.

"Physics is the harmony you can write on a string. Chemistry is the melody you can play on vibrating strings. The universe is a symphony of strings. And the mind of God that Einstein wrote about in the last 30 years is the cosmic music resonating through the dimensional hyperspace," said Kaku.

On space exploration and space travel

As an Indian, the last couple of years have been super exciting as far as space exploration is concerned, with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) proving time and again that it can deliver the goods (both literally and metaphorically).

Kaku believes that we are currently living in the second golden era of space exploration as costs associated with space travel are coming down. He mentioned India’s space mission to Mars — Mangalyaan — which cost just $74 million as an example of what is possible in space exploration today.

"Mineral moon", as seen and captured by amateur astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy during the supermoon in January 2019. Image credit: Andrew McCarthy/Reddit

"The Hollywood movie, The Martian cost over $100 million to make, whereas India sent a probe to Mars for around $70 million. So, basically, we're at a point in time where sending an actual probe to Mars costs less than making a movie about sending someone to Mars," said Kaku to uproarious laughter from the audience.

Kaku's sense of humour was impeccable throughout the chat session. Here’s another sample: "We are all born scientists. We are born wondering where we came from, why the sun shines, why the stars twinkle, etc. But eventually, we hit one of the greatest destroyers of science known to science: high school. In high school, science is made boring and irrelevant to people's lives."

Kaku also mentioned how innovations by SpaceX in reusing rockets will transform this innovation in space tech. In fact, with so many missions headed to the Moon in the near future, Kaku thinks that there will most likely be a traffic jam to get to the Moon.

"Next year we have NASA's SLS booster rocket which will orbit around the Moon. Then we have Elon Musk of SpaceX selling tickets for the Falcon Heavy Rocket that is also fully capable of going around the Moon. Then we have Jeff Bezos of Amazon, formerly the richest man in the world, he has a whole space port to go to the Moon with the Neil Armstrong rocket. The Chinese have announced that they will plant a Chinese flag on the Moon…..The question is why? Because costs have been dropping. Technology is now catching up. Your cellphone now has more processing power now than all of NASA from 1969 when we put two men on the Moon," said Kaku.

Just as Kaku was speaking, somewhere in Washington DCBezos unveiled the design of Blue Origin's lunar lander called Blue Moon which is expected to take scientific payloads as well as humans to the lunar surface.

Robots and civil rights movement?

On being asked about the ethics in the development of machines, Kaku stressed on the need for universal access to technology instead of it just being limited to the rich. That is the only way to democratise it.

Kaku also made a fascinating argument for robots also having a sort of civil rights movement.

Researcher students working on their artificial intelligence project to train robots to autonomously carry out tasks at the University of Malta in February 2019. Image: UoM

Researcher students working on their artificial intelligence project to train robots to autonomously carry out tasks at the University of Malta in February 2019. Image: UoM

"Some people wonder when robots get smarter, will they have a civil rights movement? Maybe. In the future robots may be designed to feel pain. Today we feel pain and it is necessary for our survival. Eventually, robots may have to feel pain, else we can tell them to jump off a cliff and they may destroy themselves. At that point, it has to be regulated.  So there will be some way to control the amount of damage that a master (humans in this case) can inflict on the robots. That is, of course, many decades away," said Kaku pointing that robots will also be part of our ethical understanding in the future.

Kaku hopes that we will be able to crack the 'Theory of Everything' by 2100 by when we will have the tools necessary to decode it.

And what a good thought that was to end the Google I/O on. Hopefully, the rate at which AI and deep learning are improving, it ought to happen in our lifetime.

Disclaimer: The correspondent was invited to Google I/O 2019 by Google India. All expenses related to travel and accommodation were borne by Google India.

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