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Physicist Michio Kaku shares predictions for 2100 at MOSI

TAMPA — In the future, cars will drive themselves, people will talk to walls and the walls will talk back.

With the blink of an eye, a contact lens will connect to the Internet, pulling up a biography on a person you look at and translate when he speaks Chinese.

Another blink, and you can choose a movie and watch it on a tiny LCD display on the eye's surface.

These inventions are coming down the pike, says Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and futurist, who co-founded string field theory.

Kaku revealed his predictions for the year 2100 at the Museum of Science and Industry auditorium last week as part of the Frontier Forum lecture series, hosted by the USF Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Faculty.

About 1,200 people came to the free lecture, the largest crowd yet for the series that started in 2010. Kaku, a bestselling author known for making scientific theories relevant and understandable, was paid $27,700 for the Tampa event.

So why believe him? Kaku made a number of predictions in the 1990s that have mostly come true, he says. He said the human genome would be decoded by 2005 (it was completed in 2003), and that organs would be grown from a person's own cells for transplants (it's happening now).

In his latest book, Physics of the Future, Kaku interviewed 300 top scientists, Nobel laureates and directors of laboratories, picking their brains for future inventions. Like this: a chip in our toilets that will detect cancer 10 years before a tumor forms by analyzing our urine and feces.

And this: computers that are embedded in everyday objects such as note pads and household appliances and accessed from a "cloud" that follows us.

Aging will be slowed or maybe even halted. New discoveries have pinpointed the mechanisms that cause aging, Kaku said. It's the buildup of genetic or cellular errors. Over time, skin cells start to get sluggish and no longer function properly and bones become brittle and hollow. Error-correcting mechanisms in cells start to fail. Targeting those mechanisms, Kaku said, could extend our lives.

"Some of my colleagues say they want to live long enough to live forever," he said.

Kaku, who is 65, isn't so sure. But he does think people will be able to live decades longer.

• • •

As a child, Kaku had two heroes: Flash Gordon and Albert Einstein.

Both led to his passions for physics and the future. With Flash Gordon, Kaku realized it was the scientist who made things work — even though he didn't get the girl.

When Kaku was 8, Einstein's death was in all the newspapers. He remembered a front page story about the man, and an unfinished theory that had stumped him for the last 30 years of his life.

"I said to myself, 'I want to try to finish it,' " Kaku said.

Kaku's parents were poor Japanese immigrants who met behind barbed wire in an internment camp in California during World War II. Growing up, Kaku came to realize that pursuing his dreams would be up to him.

He was 17 when he asked his mom if he could build an atom smasher in the garage.

"She said 'sure, go ahead,' " Kaku recalled.

The experiment got him into Harvard University, where he graduated first in his physics class. He then earned his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

Kaku's quest to complete Einstein's theory may have been reached with the Higgs boson, a particle that was discovered by scientists in Switzerland in July. It's the final piece of Einstein's theory and the holy grail for Kaku and other physicists because it is believed to contain the answers to how the universe came about.

Kaku calls this search his day job.

When Kaku isn't pursuing the origins of the universe, or predicting the future, he likes to unwind on the ice, where he and his wife are amateur figure skaters.

But then again, ice skating relies on physics, too, he says.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

Physicist Michio Kaku shares predictions for 2100 at MOSI 09/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 4:31am]
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