Physicist regales Yakima audience with near-future technologies (video)

YAKIMA, Wash. — In the next five years, scientists will grow the first human liver from scratch.

In eight years, our cars will drive themselves.

And within 50 years, we may have robo-doctors speaking to us from our walls, toilets that tell us how healthy we are, and computer chips in contact lenses that allow us to read everything about the people around us simply by looking at them.

These and a host of other impossible-sounding technologies were the subject of Wednesday’s Town Hall presentation by renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, co-founder of the superstring version of string theory and a prominent “popularizer of science.” The talk drew on material from his recent best-selling book, “Physics of the Future.”

Kaku is currently working on a “theory of everything” that explains the physical world from the subatomic level to the forces that govern the entire universe. He is also a radio host and frequent television guest on scientific programs in an effort to make the accomplishments of physicists accessible to the general public.

He spoke to a packed house at the Capitol Theatre as the fourth and final speaker in this season’s Town Hall series, and enthralled his audience with what the world’s leading scientists predict technology will look like in 50 years.

But he’s not just looking to awe his listeners.

In encouraging the conversation about science and technology, “One thing I want to do is to excite young people who are our future,” Kaku said at a news conference before the presentation. “Where are the high-paying jobs of the future going to be if we’re not training young people to become fluent in computers and fluent in the new technology?”

That question becomes especially important, he said, in light of young Chinese and Indian students who see science as “their ticket to prosperity” and are competing with American students for high-tech jobs.

When American students drop out of school or lose interest in science, “We are losing part of our future,” he said.

“I want to talk to myself as a child — to tell young people out there that there is a whole world that’s happening that’s not being communicated to them,” he continued.

That world certainly captured the crowd. Kaku spoke of computer chips eventually costing only a penny and being used in everything from clothing to wallpaper, where an artificial-intelligence doctor in the walls will offer sound medical advice at any hour of the day and clothes can instantly send a person’s medical history to the hospital in the event of a serious injury.

Explaining the value of physics to the public has a very real political and economic goal, Kaku said: to ensure funding for technological research and continue making the sort of scientific breakthroughs that drive the economy — like the steam engine of the industrial revolution.

“Science is the engine of prosperity,” he said. “The first sign of decline of an empire is a lack of interest in science.”

Town Hall Speaker Series, 2012-13

Next speaker: Former first lady Laura Bush

When: 11 a.m. Oct. 3

Where: Capitol Theatre

Tickets: Purchase online at yakimatownhall.com

• Molly Rosbach can be reached at 509-577-7628 or mrosbach@yakimaherald.com.

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