It looked like the line for the Kingda Ka rollercoaster at Six Flags Great Adventure. The sheer presence of Michio Kaku on UT’s campus managed to attract approximately 600 hopeful attendees, all of whom lined the halls, stairwells, and exterior of the Student Activity Center on Tuesday. Those who found themselves at the end of the line were turned away. Perhaps this fate wasn’t so bad after all.
Michio Kaku, for those who don’t know, is a brand name astrophysicist. He’s got the degree from Harvard, he’s got the two New York Times bestselling books on physics, and he’s got the fashionably long gray hair to boot. For the past couple of years, he has been hosting his own show on the radio to talk about breakthroughs in science.
Yet despite his relative celebrity status, Kaku’s presentation felt deflated. It felt uninspiring. It felt unambitious.
The better part of 40 minutes was spent listing off pieces of technology that might appear in the next 100 years. While speculating about future technology certainly has its merit, I tend to reserve speculation for sci-fi novels. It’s easy to woo a crowd with generalized statements about how amazing our lives would be with autonomous vehicles and food from a 3-D printer. But at the same time, I don’t really want to be talked down to. I want my mind to be blown.
What’s truly disappointing is that Kaku is a smart guy. At the ripe old age of fifteen he decided to build a particle accelerator in his garage and enter it in a science fair. He co-founded String Theory in 1974 and has written numerous textbooks on the general subject of physics. So why then would he feel the need to advertise the future in such elementary terms? It was as though science and technology are not intrinsically valuable to his audience unless it has some materialistic, self-serving purpose. To me, this watered-downed, over simplified marketed view of science ultimately defuses the value that it has on its own right.
In the next 100 years, I don’t want to see just new gadgetry and products for consumers; I want to see a shift in popular understanding of science that reflects a deeper appreciation for its true worth.