From kilobytes to petabytes from 1s and 0s to Qubits we now have a glimpse of a future so immense that it has set off alarm bells for famed futurists like Ray Kurzweil, Max Tegmark and now the co-founder of string theory and best selling author Michio Kaku. Kaku is one of the most popular scientists on earth and is one of the very few figures that are able to talk a scientific language that most of us can understand.
His latest message comes in the shape of his forecasting manual The Future of Humanity, in short, this book gives us a glimpse into a future where new technology and science will allow us immense powers that will force us to rethink our position in the universe. A future where Mars will become our new home, where intelligent life won’t be limited to us, where immortality will no longer be a fanciful obstacle and where ultimately we will expand into colonising other universes. However, as Michio Kaku says, our first step in all of this is to leave what will soon be an uninhabitable planet earth, this is where our exploration starts.
“We are on the verge of becoming a Type 1 civilisation.”
Your previous book Physics of the Future spoke to me very clearly, and ever since the Kardashev scale has fascinated me. You continue this thread in this new book by mentioning that we are slowly moving into a Type 1 civilisation. Can you explain what that means and why we might have to leave earth soon to survive?
So a Type 1 civilisation is planetary in that they control all planetary sources of energy. They control all the sunlight that falls on their planet, they control the weather. We are about 100 years away from that. It’s very easy to calculate what the total energy output of the world is and convert that into joules of energy, and then you calculate the energy of a Type 1 civilisation, and we find that by about the year 2100 we will become planetary. After that we become Stella, Type 2, that is when we have the power of a star. We will play with stars. For example, Star Trek and the Federation of Planets would be a potential Type 2 civilisation. Then there are Type 3 civilisations which is like Star Wars. Each civilisation is separated from the previous one by about 10 Billion times. So you take the energy output of one type, multiply it by 10 billion and you get the energy output of the next type.
Now, why should this matter? Because we are on the verge of becoming a Type 1 civilisation. The internet is the first Type 1 technology that we see that is truly planetary. That’s why the internet is so significant. It’s the first Type 1 technology to hit the earth. We see evidence of this transition culturally everywhere we go. A Type 0 civilisation still has all the savagery of its rise from the swamp. We still have all the nationalism, fundamentalism, all of that. But by the time we become Type 1, we iron out most of these problems. By the time we become Type 2 we become immortal. Nothing known to science can destroy a Type 2 civilisation.
The future you describe in the book is vast and expansive. Full of bold ideas and one with technological and scientific prowess. Terraforming starships, immortality, and advanced civilisation. This is also an immense step into the unknown right?
That’s right. However I’m a physicist, therefore, we can begin to quantify the unknown. If I was a science fiction writer I could just fantasise about all kinds of goofy things that violate the laws of physics. But I’m a physicist, I know the energy output and the requirements of these technologies.
Let’s discuss one of the specific ideas that you talk about, laser-porting for example, can you briefly explain what that is?
Yeah. By the end of the century, we will digitise ourselves. Everything known about us, our personality, even our memories will be digitised. There’s something called the Connectome Project that President Obama helped to start, which will map all the pathways to the brain.
Already you have a digital footprint. All your credit card transactions, your Instagram pictures, your videos. That’s quite a big digital footprint. But by the end of the century, your brain will also be imprinted as well. So we’ll be able to create a composite image of who you are. We can digitise that, put it on a laser beam and shoot it to the moon. In one second you’re on the moon, in 20 minutes you’re on Mars, in one day you’re on Pluto, and in four years you’ve reached the stars. No booster rockets, no accidents, no weightlessness, no cosmic rays to worry about. Now personally, let me stick my neck out and say I think it already exists. That aliens much more advanced than us don’t bother with flying saucers. Flying saucers are so 20th century. They laser-port themselves. There might be a laser-port highway right next to the Earth with billions of souls teleporting themselves across the galaxy, and we’re too stupid to know it.
Is it stupidity? Or just the fact that we’re still stuck between 0 and 1 on the Kardashev scale?
A combination. There’s a certain stupidity involved because we’re arrogant. We think we know everything. We think that by listening to radio we can find out about the existence of life in outer space. To me, that’s kind of stupid. If we encounter a primitive civilisation we might think they use Morse code but eventually, they’ll start to use the entire electromagnetic spectrum. We basically assume that the aliens out there use Morse code, that they’re only maybe Type 1. We assume that they’re maybe 100 years more advanced than us. We assume they have flying saucers. But why? That’s so 20th century. A more advanced way is to laser-port themselves across the galaxy.
Are there huge objections in the scientific community about some of the ideas you lay out in the book?
No. I’m a physicist and other physicists have looked at it. There are no violations of the laws of physics. If there was a violation of the laws of physics then, of course, we would argue. But there’s no violation of the laws of physics. Everything I talk about is well within the laws of physics.
The recent Space X launch with a Falcon Heavy rocket featuring a dummy driver named “Starman”
So one of the things I think becomes quite prevalent in your book is this idea that power has shifted from governments to private citizens. The idea that we can take the fate of the world into our own hands, people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, albeit considering they have billions of dollars more than the average citizen. But they hail a new dawn and it also seems like NASA is being made redundant. Is this the era where giant entrepreneurs take matters into their own hands as you suggest in the book?
I think they can go hand-in-hand. When President Barack Obama cancelled the space shuttle he did so knowing that the private sector could pick up the slack. NASA is cautious because it’s a bureaucracy. Safety is their number one concern. For a capitalist, yeah safety is important, but it may not be the number one concern. They want to get things done quickly and efficiently. So private industry could give a fresh set of ideas and timetables and make things happen quicker than NASA. Also, NASA being a bureaucracy, everything turns out to be a compromise. If you think about it the railroads split into freight railroads and passenger railroads and became much more streamlined, economical and efficient. The bureaucrats wanted one thing for everybody, but it became nothing for nobody. That’s where bureaucracy went off the rails with the space shuttle.
So considering what you’ve just said, they are the dreamers of the world, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and now they entertain the idea that we can terraform a new planet. Perhaps describe to us what that timeline looks like?
First of all, we’re terraforming the Earth right now so terraforming is already happening.
But microorganisms don’t do it with an agenda.
Well, we can do it in steps. First, we need to use methane gas to heat up the atmosphere a bit. Second is to have solar mirrors in space to melt the icecaps. And once you elevate the temperature by six degrees you get the runaway effect. It spirals. So that’s all you have to do. Heat up the planet by six degrees. Here we’re already heating up the Earth by one degree, and we’re not even conscious of it. On Mars, we would have to consciously raise the temperature by about six degrees. And then, of course, we have to make it liveable, with genetically modified plants that thrive in a carbon dioxide atmosphere. We would genetically modify them to thrive on Mars. We would mine the ice for water and rocket fuel, we would genetically modify crops to grow, we would melt the icecaps. In a hundred years or so we can start this process. No one is saying we can do it immediately, but in the next century, once we have a settlement on Mars, we can begin the process.
“Aliens much more advanced than us don’t bother with flying saucers. Flying saucers are so 20th century. They laser-port themselves.”
This is a very serious idea that has started to gain traction. Leaving one’s planet would probably instil a whole weight of anxiety for the 7 billion plus already living here. You seem to feel that we’re lulling between two ice ages. Some sceptics would say that to move to another planet is basically abandoning the Earth, but we need to make preparations because the Earth is not reap-able anymore. What do you say to those critics?
I think they all get it wrong. No one is saying that we should abandon the Earth to go to Mars. That’s not going to happen. There are too many people on Earth and Mars is very far away. We’re talking about an insurance policy. I think people are barking up the wrong tree. We should fix global warming on the Earth, not flee it by going to Mars.
You placed a lot of faith in this fourth wave of technology and science, saying that it will create a new wealth revolution. But leaving the planet and terraforming Mars also brings with it equal hubris and ego, so we would have to keep in check. Do you think a type of treaty is in order?
I think we have to have treaties. Look at the outer space treaty of 1967. It says nothing about private individuals claiming the Moon. But now it’s possible. In 1967, if I had told you that one man would create his own moon rocket capable of putting a flag on the Moon and claiming it, you’d think I was nuts. But here we are. That’s why millions of people tuned in last month. It was a moon rocket. How much did it cost the taxpayers? Nothing. Zero. So this was never foreseen in 1967. So we need new treaties because, you know, China’s going to the Moon. China’s already stated that they will plant their flag on the Moon. We need treaties because private enterprise is going to the Moon regardless. It doesn’t take that much to go to the Moon. In the future people will honeymoon on the Moon. It will be a tourist attraction.
Exploiting all this new technology will lead us into a whole new era of exploration is how you put it. So one of the professors in your book makes a fascinating statement and I wanted to pick your brain about this. She says, “We still haven’t found any copies of our solar system, in fact, there have been so many strange results that astronomers don’t have enough theories to accommodate them. The more we find the less we understand. The whole thing is a mess.” Can you please unpack this for us a little bit?
When I was in grade school we learned that everything was nice and tidy. That our solar system had rocky planets, like Earth and Mars, gas giants like Saturn, and comets. Everything was very simple. All the planets were in circular orbits and everything was peaceful. That idea is totally out of the window. Why? Because you need circular orbits to create life. Life is extremely rare in the universe. It requires peace and a quiet environment to get life off the ground. The universe is violent, orbits are erratic, planets collide with other planets all the time. We’re the exception. Why? We have life. To have life on a planet is extremely difficult. You need a stable, quiet environment. Stable for billions of years. But in the universe every few thousand years there’s a disaster someplace. So why is the Earth so different from all the other solar systems we see? Because we have life on Earth. It takes very stringent conditions to create DNA. For example, when children learn that the universe is very old, they ask “why is the universe so old?” Most people are clueless right? But the reason why the universe is old is it took that long to get DNA off the ground. There was no DNA soon after the Big Bang, it took 13 or so billion years to get DNA off the ground in this sector of the galaxy.
Matt Damon in the 2016 film The Martian Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
But the fact that we arrived and earth has survived so long so perfectly is strange nonetheless, does the idea of your multiverse theory fit into the concept?
Yeah, this solves the fine-tuning problem. The universe seemed to know we were coming. All the forces of the universe are tuned just right to make life on Earth possible. If the nuclear force were stronger the sun would have burnt out billions of years ago. If the nuclear force were weaker the sun would never have ignited to begin with. So the nuclear force is just right to make sunlight, which is very rare. You can go down the list, there are many many coincidences. So either god exists or it’s a crapshoot.
So can you explain briefly the idea of a multiverse?
The universe is a bubble. We live in the skin of the bubble, and that bubble is expanding. That’s called the Big Bang Theory. Now we believe in a bubble bath, many universes floating, sometimes bumping into each other, that’s called the Big Bang. So what happened before Genesis chapter 1 verse 1, when God said let there be light? What happened before that? Well before that, there was a collision of universes. So one day we will take baby pictures of the universe using gravity wave detectors. In a few years, I think we’ll have baby pictures of the infant universe. At that point, we’ll see the universe coming out of the womb, and maybe we’ll see an umbilical cord connecting our infant universe to a mother universe.
“My attitude is, if the universe is going to die, then we should leave the universe.”
In relation to this, you have said, “the law of physics is a death warrant to all intelligent life.” So eventually, in trillions of years, the universe will die out. Are you potentially saying that these soap bubbles will eventually burst and give way to new soap bubbles?
Well, they don’t burst because that would violate Einstein’s theory, but they just get bigger and bigger and colder and colder. So if this expansion keeps on going forever then we’ll all freeze to death. This is called the Big Freeze. Now it’s not guaranteed because it could reverse but right now the universe seems to be accelerating. It’s careering out of control. The universe is in a runaway mode right now.
So that obviously suggests this idea that we need to leave this universe, hence your chapters on interstellar space travel. You do mention that in order to master this type of travel Planck energy might be able to take us there. Could you give us an idea of what that is and how that could be beneficial?
The ultimate energy is the Planck energy. Mathematically it is ten to the 19 billion electron vaults. It’s quadrillion times more powerful than the Hadron Collider. At that energy space becomes unstable. You know when you heat up water, eventually it boils right? If you heat up empty space then space begins to boil. Bubbles begin to form and these bubbles are universes. Most of them pop back into the vacuum never to be seen again, but some of them expand, and that’s our universe. That’s probably how our universe got started. But one day our universe will become so big and so cold that life cannot survive, and we physicists have written many articles about how life can survive when the universe gets really really cold. Eventually, all life will die on the Earth, if this expansion continues. My attitude is, if the universe is going to die, then we should leave the universe.
What kind of crapshoot, as you appropriately called it, would you give our chances of surviving the next hundred years in our current state?
99.9 percent of all life on Earth has gone extinct. Extinction is the norm. We think Mother Nature is warm and cuddly but nature can also be savage and indifferent. Nature doesn’t care if we become a footnote in the history of life. But I think we’re different to the 99.9 percent that has died. The dinosaurs did not have a space programme and that’s why they’re not here today. They are part of the 99.9 percent. When an asteroid hit they were clueless. We have a space programme, therefore, we can plan for an emergency.
When quantum physics was discovered almost 100 years ago it was counter-intuitive to the logic of how physicists had seen the world. Do you think something of a similar nature, a new type of energy or an aspect of the universe could potentially change the way that we see things beyond our grasp at the moment?
I don’t think we’re going to see anything fundamental. If there is something shocking and astounding it will be an engineering feat rather than a physics feat. The reason is we have a good understanding, down to the fraction of a proton and out to the Big Bang, a fairly good understanding of the laws of physics. From the inside of a proton all the way to the outer rim of the universe. So we don’t expect to see any surprises unless of course, we go inside the proton to wormholes and things or outside the universe to hyperspace. But engineering wise yeah, there could be all kinds of surprises, and bioengineering as well.
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond is out now through DoubleDay