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Kaku mainEngineers, scientists, and mathematicians will be the creative minds sparking the innovations leading the next technological wave that will create wealth and an exciting new civilization.

That's the vision of theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, the world's foremost authority on the future, who presented the Oscar C. Schmidt Memorial Lecture during this year's homecoming convocation. The event filled Hulbert Arena of the Sports and Recreation Center with students, faculty, staff members, alumni, and community residents.

Kaku, co-founder of string field theory, interviewed 300 of the world's top scientists for his New York Times best-selling book, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100. He discovered science comes in waves, sparked by a few key inventions.

"Science is the engine of prosperity, but innovation is the rocket fuel of science. Without innovation you get stagnation. We need more innovation," Kaku says. Steam-generated machines and the locomotive created the first technological wave, during the 1800s, and great wealth from the Industrial Revolution, he outlines. Advances in electricity and automobiles provided the frontier of the second wave in the early 1900s. Computing, satellites, lasers, and telecommunications caused the third wave in the late 1900s.

Kaku believes it won't take another 100 years for the next technological wave to take place. In fact, in many cases, it has already started. This fourth wave will be based on a combination of four scientific areas: biotechnology, computers/ telecommunications, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology/material science.

This wave will feature the Internet being incorporated into every aspect of people's lives, available through eyeglasses and contact lenses; computers being as thin, flexible, and cheap as paper; transparent screens bringing 3D technology to home televisions; driverless cars, using GPS and radar; nanoparticles the size of molecules will locate and kill cancer cells; smart toilets will monitor personal health; persons will use thought waves to control machines, robots, and computers; and a "human body shop" will allow for the growth of new body organs from a person's cells, greatly increasing life expectancy and quality of life.

"These are some of the most exciting times to be a scientist," Kaku says. "As a physicist we rank civilizations by energy. We're now at a Type 0 civilization, getting our energy from dead plants (coal and oil). A Type 1 civilization is truly planetary, mining the oceans and harnessing the power of hurricanes and volcanoes. Type 2 is stellar, a civilization that harnesses the power of two nearby stars. Type 3 is galactic, harnessing the black holes and the galaxy.

"If I was an engineer today, I would be excited about the fact that we're witnessing the birth of the greatest step in human civilization, the transition from a Type 0 to a Type 1 civilization. It might be 100 years away, but every headline I see points to the birth of this Type 1 society," he adds. "This Type 1 civilization will speak English, the first planetary language. The Internet is a Type 1 telephone system. Rock-n-roll is the beginning of a Type 1 youth culture. Chanel and Gucci are the beginning of fashion that's planetary. So, the steps are in place for this monumental shift toward a new type of civilization."

A theoretical physicist, Kaku's goal is to complete Einstein's dream of a "theory of everything"-a single elegant equation that unifies the fundamental forces of the universe. His two radio programs, "Explorations in Science" and "Science Fantastic," focus on topics such as frontiers in physics, black holes, time machines, hyperspace, the human genome project, and genetic engineering.

Kaku Video  

In an exclusive Echoes interview, Kaku discussed a variety of current topics about science and engineering, including:

Keeping America's High-Tech Edge: "America needs another 'Sputnik Moment' so that we can compete against China and India. We could be losing that edge as other countries realize that high tech is the meal ticket.

You don't need to tell China and India that high tech is their meal ticket, but we need to get this message to the American people. It will be difficult to create 'Sputnik Moments' if we keep slashing science programs, like NASA."

Nurturing Future Innovators: "There are three ingredients necessary to creating a scientist and engineer: parental support, having mentors and role models, and being motivated to succeed. Institutions like Rose-Hulman can play a significant role in providing the right environment to nurture the engineers and scientists of the future."

It's Not All About Money and Success: "Sometimes you have to follow your star. The perfect job is to get paid for what you love. Scientists and engineers need to love what they do. They shouldn't be encouraged to go into the field because of the high salaries. With great ideas comes great wealth. But the idea comes first." ■


Kaku photos