Event Report: NEC iEXPO KANSAI 2017

NEC Future Creation Forum Related Session
A future in which humans connect with AI

Part 1: Special Session
Dr. Michio Kaku (Professor of Theoretical Physics, City College of New York)

The fourth wave of revolution brought by a combination of AI, nanotechnology, and biotechnology

Physicists have so far launched three revolutions. The first major wave of innovation occurred in the 1800s when physicists unlocked the secret of heat, thermodynamics, and the steam engine and made the Industrial Revolution possible. That happened because the physicists became able to calculate how much energy could be extracted from a lump of coal. 80 years later, physicists began to harness electricity and magnetism, creating the Electric Revolution driven by electricity, automobiles, radio and TV. The third wave of revolution was driven by computers, satellites, laser technology and the internet. And now, the combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, and biotechnology is expected to be the drivers of the fourth wave of wealth generation.

Portrait of Dr. Michio Kaku

Professor of Theoretical Physics, City College of New York

Dr. Michio Kaku

Robotics set to become larger than the automobile industry

AI is currently making its immediate impact in fields involving dirty, dull and dangerous work. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the branch of the Pentagon, which created the internet and NASA, is challenging to create robots to clean up the Fukushima disaster. It is calling for scientists throughout the world to develop robots capable of sweeping floors, clearing away debris, turning valves and driving vehicles in dangerously radioactive environments.

Robots are also sure to spread into various other fields, including entertainment, nursing, and restaurant occupations such as cooks and waiters. In time, robotics will likely surpass even the automobile industry.

Just as the automobile industry has spawned a wide range of related industries, the robotics industry will eventually give birth to a diversity of jobs, including robot manufacture, monitoring, programming, design, and repair. And cars themselves will be robotized. Your car will be artificially intelligent. They will self-drive, self-park, and be able to converse with people. They will also become things that we lease rather than own. We'll call a car when we need it, have it take us to our destination, then call another car when we head home. That kind of usage will become the norm.

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Internet to evolve into Brain net

We will come to talk with each other using goggles, earphones, watches, and other devices that leverage VR, AR (augmented reality) and AI. Contact lenses that can connect to the internet are already being developed. College students will probably be the first to buy them, since they’ll be able to call up all the exam answers they need with just a few blinks of the eyes.

Tourists will be able to wander around Rome and gaze on ancient ruins resurrected in front of their eyes. And they’ll be able to go shopping in the market, bargaining with the merchants in their own language, since whatever device they're equipped with will translate the merchants’ words too.

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This is no longer science fiction. The physicist Stephen Hawking can neither talk nor move his hands, but he has a chip embedded on the right side of his glasses that is connected to a laptop. The chip picks up his brain waves, enabling him to communicate.

I think that someday, our brains will be able to connect directly with the internet. And with VR and AR embedded in contact lenses, and our brains connected to the internet, we should be able to move things around like a magician, call a car, type an email, make a restaurant reservation just by bringing the thought to mind.

A future in which we upload memories to our brains

There’s a movie in which the hero has the memory of a visit to Mars embedded in his brain. But this is not just something out of the movies. Two years ago, some researchers actually successfully uploaded a memory. Short-term memory is processed in the hippocampus, then sent to the outer part of the brain for long-term storage. The researchers inserted electrodes on both sides of the hippocampus of a mouse and recorded impulses while teaching the mouse to sip water from a tube. In other words, they recorded a memory. The same experiment has been carried out on monkeys too. After causing the mouse or monkey to forget what they were taught, the researchers returned the recorded memory, as a result of which the animal quickly remembered how to drink water through a tube. The next target is Alzheimer’s patients. Envisage a brain pacemaker in which the name, home address, family details and other memories of the patient have been embedded.

Such endeavors also, of course, have dangers. At MIT, experiments are being carried out on embedding false memories in mice. This is therefore an issue that needs to be carefully considered. Now we are only uploading simple memories to the human brain, and eventually, we may see the creation of Brain net in which thoughts and feelings are all connected through the internet.

Increasing prominence of human neural circuit mapping research using MRI

Amazing research is also being carried out under a major 21st-century scientific undertaking known as the Human Connectome Project. Aimed to solve the riddle of mental illness, researchers are using MRI to map the entire brain.

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In Europe, research is also being conducted on simulating the brain electronically on computers. Researchers have already succeeded in reproducing the thought process of a mouse for several minutes. In the United States, researchers are also attempting to map neurons one by one by using laser beams to control proteins. Combining optics with genetics, this new field of research known as optogenetics, will likely help to unravel specific neural pathways and their functions.

Talking with Einstein: making digital immortality a reality

I'd like to end by touching on the issue of death. Immortality has been a dream of the human race from ancient times. We age and die because of the gradual buildup of DNA errors. Now, however, advances are being made and in the future, we may be able to spend decades in our 30s.

Even now, we can leave our personal information and history as a digital footprint. If we can connect video recordings of our lives, credit card records and other data with the Connectome (neural circuit map), it’s not inconceivable that we could preserve and reproduce ourselves for eternity. That could result in what I call a “library of souls”.

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You can go to a library, find a book on Churchill, Hitler or Einstein, and read about them. But what if you were able to actually talk with Churchill? I’m talking here about combining all recordings and other data to create a digital image of Churchill that you can talk with. I think that such systems could become a reality relatively soon, and that in the future, we’ll all be able to create our own Connectomes. You’ll be able to leave your thoughts, emotions, memories on a disc, and even after you die, your Connectome will go on living. So in a sense, you'll be able to live forever.

And how about going a step further and sending your Connectome into space on a laser beam? In the near future, once we've developed lasers powerful enough to beam Connectomes into space, we should be able to transport our minds to the moon in a second, and Mars in 20 minutes. The day may come when we’ll be able to live in different worlds or far in the future.

> Continue to 'A future in which humans connect with AI' Part 2: Panel Discussion