3:48pm

Wed March 16, 2011
Technology

No Flying Car, But How About An Invisibility Cloak?

Picture this: You wake up bleary-eyed on New Year's Day. Last night was wild, and you're not feeling so hot.

It's the first day of 2100, and here's how your morning might unfold: You stumble into the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth. Tiny microchips in your toothbrush and your toilet instantly analyze your health. You wrap a few wires around your head and mentally cue up soothing music and fried eggs for breakfast. When you're ready, you issue another mental command to your magnetic car, and it leaves the garage and cruises up to your front door.

Sound crazy? According to physicist Michio Kaku, all these technologies are not only possible, they're already in development.

Kaku has written a new book, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100. He tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz that one of the most fascinating inventions coming our way is Internet-enabled contact lenses.

"Think of what you can do," Kaku says. "When you meet somebody, your contact lens will identify who that person is, print out their biography next to that person's image, and then translate, from Chinese into English or whatever." He compares it to the technology Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator character used to identify his opponents.

Stealth bombers will get a makeover in the future, Kaku says, when true invisibility technology becomes widespread. "I teach optics," he says, "and for years I used to teach the kids that invisibility was not possible. Well, I was wrong."

Scientists have discovered a new substance called "metamaterials," that allows light to bend around an object and re-form on the other side, like a stream around a boulder. "This is the real McCoy," Kaku says. "This is the Harry Potter invisibility cloak."

Some people might not be all that excited about these new technologies, Kaku admits. They might be frightened. But he points to the example of electricity — when it was first introduced, people found it intrusive and dangerous. And the dangers were real; electricity does cause frequent deaths and fires. "And you know something? We love it," Kaku says. "You get used to it. And later you say to yourself, how could I have lived without it?" Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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