Michio Kaku on how technology will impact the world in the coming 20 years

Michio Kaku speaking at the recent Hitachi NEXT conference in Las Vegas.

They say it is important to be surrounded by people smarter than yourself. This certainly wasn’t hard at the Hitachi NEXT conference, recently held in Las Vegas, which focused on how technology is shaping the business world.

One of the event’s speakers was scientist and futurist Michio Kaku who discussed what the world would look like in 20 years from now. Here are some of his predictions that will impact business and investment decisions globally.

  • Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology are going to be central themes in the next wave of science and wealth creation. Our lives will be complemented by a combination of virtual and augmented reality.
  • Internet-connected contact lenses will revolutionise industries such as education. Students would no longer have to memorise things such as the periodic table of elements as they will have access to a vast array of basic information by simply blinking their eyes. Formal teaching will instead focus on concepts and principles.
  • Furthermore, these high-tech contact lenses will recognise people’s faces and pull up their biographies. In the future you will know exactly who to suck up to at a cocktail party.
  • Mass customisation is another important theme for the future. Footwear stores will take customers’ measurements, and punch out a made-to-order shoe while they wait. Similarly, at Christmas time, instead of elbowing other shoppers for the season’s hottest toy, shoppers will simply 3D print the item at home.
  • The only reason we use a combination of PCs, laptops and mobile phones is the difference in screen size. With digital paper, you’ll be able to scroll out the required screen size and afterwards fold it back up into your mobile phone. Aging and discoloured wallpaper will also be a thing of the past as the colour and design of intelligent paper can instantly be changed.
  • Robots will take over some of the functions currently performed by doctors and lawyers, delivering these services cheaper and more efficiently. For instance, if you feel a pain in your chest – and are not sure whether it is a heart attack or the previous night’s pizza – you’ll be able to instantly talk to a robotic doctor for advice on what to do. Similarly, if you are in a car accident in a foreign country, a robo-lawyer, with access to all legal data in any city in any language, will come to the rescue. However, there are limitations to what robots can do – only a real-life lawyer can talk to a jury or a judge.
  • With robots entering the jobs market, the employment opportunities of the future will lie in interpersonal relationships with humans, pattern recognition, and common sense. While robots might be stronger or have better visibility than humans, they struggle to understand concepts such as why a mother has to be older than her daughter, or why water is wet and cannot be dry.
  • The cars of the future will also be robots, obviously. In the morning you will call your vehicle to pick you up at home, and in the evening, after dropping you off, it will go and park itself. No longer would people have to worry about finding parking. This will revolutionise the way cities function.
  • Medicine is the next industry to be digitised. Digital toilets will pick up proteins from cancer cells 10 years before a tumor forms. The word tumor will disappear from the English language. Many parts of the human body – including ears, bladders, heart valves and skin – can already be grown in a laboratory. The next big thing to be digitised is the human mind. In Japan a company has already designed a headband with a brain-wave sensor and motorised cat-shaped ears programmed to turn up or down based on the wearer’s thoughts and emotions.

So how can you become wealthy in this new economy? By identifying areas of friction (or middle-man inefficiencies) in various industries, and digitising them. “That is the secret behind Amazon, Airbnb [and] Uber. All the riches of Silicon Valley come from digitising the friction of capitalism,” explained Kaku.

Jaco Maritz is publisher and editor-in-chief of How we made it in Africa.