The holiday of the future will still provide memories of strolls along sunny beaches, the sensation of sand between your toes and the peaceful rush of the ocean, but there will be one crucial difference.
You won’t have ever actually been away – in fact you might not have even left your home.
Instead, people will download memories to their brains to make them feel as if they have been on a sun-kissed holiday.
That’s just one of the many realities we could face as we learn to manipulate the human mind, US physicist Dr Michio Kaku told MailOnline in an exclusive interview.
Dr Kaku is best known for his expertise in theoretical physics – his previous books have dealt with topics such as parallel universes and the cosmos.
But his latest book, The Future of the Mind, takes a look at how rapid advancements could bring about huge changes in how we understand – and use – our brains in the next 50 to 100 years.
His theories on the future of the mind are wide-ranging, from the possibilities of telepathy to controlling ‘programmable matter’ with our thoughts alone.
At times, his opinions sound purely like science fiction – but he’s convinced that these are developments we’ll see not just in the distant future, but by the end of the century.
All this will be made possible by significant advancements in our understanding of the brain.
As Dr Kaku points out, we have learned more about the brain in the last 15 years than we have in the rest of human history.
And crucially, our knowledge of the map of neural connections in the brain, known as the connectome, is rapidly improving.
This is thanks to machines such as MRI scanners that can see which parts of the brain light up as a person performs different activities.
‘In the short term, we’re going to be able to connect our minds to computers, so that we’ll be able to control exoskeletons,’ he said.
WHO IS DR MICHO KAKU?
Dr Kaku was born in California on 24 January 1947.
He led a distinguished academic career, attending Harvard University and the University of California, Berkely – where he received his PhD in 1972.
His studies focused on theoretical physics, and he is continuing to search for a so-called ‘Theory of Everything’ that unites the four fundamental forces of nature – the strong force, the weak force, gravity and electromagnetism.
Today he popularises physics to the public and has appeared on numerous TV and radio programmes.
He has also written various popular science books including Physics of the Future and Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe.
His latest book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, was number one on the New York Times Bestseller list.
‘We’ll be able to perform primitive forms of telepathy, we’ll eventually record memories, and then Alzheimer’s patients will be able to push a button and memories will flood in.
‘Beyond that, the Internet will be replaced by the “Brain-net”, where you can convey emotions and memories rather than just text.’
Further into the future, probably the 22nd century, we could control surrogate robots on alien worlds with our minds, so we can explore space without physically having to go anywhere, according to Dr Kaku.
‘Maybe aliens have already done this, and we’re walking into the middle of an interstellar system where people commute regularly to planets and stars, and we’re too stupid to know it,’ he said.
On telepathy, Dr Kaku says we can already take someone who’s totally paralysed, hook them up to a computer, and allow them to send messages on the internet.
In the future, you could ‘walk into a room, mentally turn on the lights, internet, answer emails, call up for a movie. Indeed the computer mouse will gradually be phased out.
This will be made possible thanks to programmable matter – the dream of creating tiny little dust particles with the power of a PC, known as catoms, that can change their electric charge and be rearranged – all by our minds.
At the moment we are ‘nowhere near getting down to a grain of sand,’ but Dr Kaku insists this can be addressed in the future.
‘In principle, in the future – mid-century – when you walk into a room, you’ll mentally control all computers which are invisible – like Harry Potter.
‘What he does with his wand is rearrange matter so one object turns into another.
‘That’s the goal of programmable matter, to have the ability like a magician.By late in this century, we might have full power.’
Dr Kaku’s theories on the future of the mind are wide-ranging, from the possibilities of telepathy to controlling ‘programmable matter’ with our thoughts alone (artist’s impression of neuron, pictured)
He added: ‘Someone from the outside watching us would think we’re sorcerers.’
Advancements in brain manipulation have important moral implications in the future, too, according to Dr Kaku.
‘[You could] fire a gun and record that, and insert it into an innocent person’s brain so he thinks he fired a gun when he didn’t.’
Dr Kaku says it will be entirely possible that we will one day be able to upload entire skills into a person’s brain.
To become a doctor, for instance, someone could have all the relevant medical terminology and procedures uploaded into their mind.
However, he does not think this will make education obsolete, as people will still need to learn how to use this information.
‘If you want to be a great chess player, learning the moves of chess is not enough,’ he said.
‘You have to chew on it, you have to regurgitate games of the past.
‘In the future, you’ll be able to learn the basic rules of calculus, but if you think “what does it mean” and “how can I apply this in new situations”, then you have to chew on it, and that you have to do yourself.’
HOW FALSE MEMORIES COULD LAND YOU IN JAIL
Innocent people can be fooled into believing they have carried out a violent crime that never took place, a study has revealed.
Psychologists found that during just three hours of interviews, adults could be convinced they had perpetrated a theft, an assault, or even attacked somebody with a weapon when they were a teenager.
People can be fooled into believing they have carried out a violent crime that never took place
Using suggestive memory-retrieval techniques, the researchers were able to trick 70 per cent of the participants into believing they had committed an offence.
The effect was so strong that the participants ended up providing detailed descriptions of things that had never actually taken place
‘Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate, and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories,’ said lead researcher Julia Shaw, from the University of Bedfordshire.
‘All participants need to generate a richly detailed false memory is three hours in a friendly interview environment, where the interviewer introduces a few wrong details and uses poor memory-retrieval techniques.’
After hearing a false account of their teenage crime – peppered with true details of their life at that time – the participants appeared to ‘internalise’ the fabricated story.
This highlights the fundamental malleability of memory, said Dr Shaw.
‘This research speaks to the distinct possibility that most of us are likely able to generate rich false memories of emotional and criminal events,’ she said.
But if all of this sounds a bit daunting, Dr Kaku we may be able to look for guidance not on Earth – but in the discovery of intelligent races elsewhere in the cosmos who ‘mentally communicate’ with each other.
‘Some of my friends who listen for messages think [first contact] will happen in the next few decades,’ he said.
Although Dr Kaku thinks that estimate is a bit soon, he said it was possible that if contact is made, a race could be an ‘alien consciousness’ rather than a physical being like humans, and he does not necessarily think they will be dangerous.
That itself brings a suggestion that they may be more like the ‘Borg in Star Trek’, where people are all linked to a single consciousness.
He said such a future for humanity was ‘not impossible’, and ultimately the ‘ability to liberate ourselves from the inconveniences of the human body’ would allow us to explore space like never before.
Until, then, we’ll have to make do with downloadable holidays, programmable matter and learning new skills at the touch of a button.