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Michio Kaku: Can Nanotechnology Create Utopia?

Dr. Kaku addresses the question of the possibility of utopia, the perfect society that people have tried to create throughout history.

These dreams have not been realized because we have scarcity. However, now we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, says Dr. Michio Kaku, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator, which will create enormous abundance.



Michio Kaku: Throughout human history people have tried to create utopia, the perfect society.  In fact, America, the American dream, in some sense was based on utopianism.  Why do we have the Shaker movement?  Why did we have the Quakers?  Why did we have so many different kinds of religious movements that fled Europe looking to create a utopia here in the Americas?  Well, we know the Shakers have disappeared and many of these colonies have also disappeared only to be found in footnotes in American textbooks, and the question is why?

One reason why is scarcity because back then the industrial revolution was still young and societies had scarcity.  Scarcity creates conflict and unless you have a way to resolve conflict, your colony falls apart.  How do you allocate resources?  Who gets access to food when there is a famine?  Who gets shelter when there is a snowstorm and all of the sudden you’ve eaten up your seed corn?  These are questions that faced the early American colonists, and that’s the reason why we only see the ghost towns of these utopias.

However, now we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, who knows, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator.  Now the replicator is something you see in Star Trek.  It’s called the molecular assembler and it takes ordinary raw materials, breaks them up at the atomic level and joins the joints in different ways to create new substances.  If you have a molecular assembler, you can turn, for example, a glass into wood or vice versa.  You would have the power of a magician, in fact, the power of a god, the ability to literally transform the atoms of one substance into another and we see it on Star Trek.

It’s also the most subversive device of all because if utopias fail because of scarcity then what happens when you have infinite abundance?  What happens when you simply ask and it comes to you?  One of my favorite episodes on Star Trek is when the Enterprise encounters a space capsule left over from the 20th century, the bad 20th century.  People died of all these horrible diseases, and many people froze themselves knowing that in the 23rd century or so they’ll be thawed out and their diseases will be cured.  Well, sure enough, it’s the 23rd century now.  The Enterprise finds a space capsule and begins to revive all these people and cure them of cancer, cure them of incurable genetic diseases, and then one of these individuals, however, was a banker.  He is revived and he says to himself, “My God, my gamble worked; I’m alive; I’m in the 23rd century,” and he said, “Call my stock broker; call my banker; I am rich; I am rich; my investments, they have been sitting there in the bank for centuries; I must be a quadrillionaire!”  And then the crew of the Enterprise looks at this man and says, ”What is money; what is a bank; what is a stock broker?  We don’t have any of these in the 23rd century,” and then they say, “If you want something, you simply ask for it and you get it.”

Now that’s subversive.  That’s revolutionary because if all utopiansocieties vanished because of scarcity and conflict, what happens when there is no scarcity?  What happens when you simply ask and you get what you want?  This has enormous philosophical implications.  For example, why bother to work?  Why bother to go to work when you simply ask for things and it comes to you?

Now, some sociologists think that if drugs, for example, are totally legalized, absolutely legalized then maybe three to five percent of the human race will become permanent drug addicts.  That’s the price for total legalization of drugs.  I don’t know, but that’s a number that people talk about.  What happens when we have this society based on replicators?  Then will we have three to five percent of the human race become permanent parasites?  This is a possibility.  The whole nature of the human psyche is based around producing things, doing something, making a contribution.  What happens when you don’t have to do that anymore?  What happens when there is infinite plenty?  What happens if there is a utopia?

The detractors will say, “Bah-humbug! There is no replicator; it violates the laws of physics.”  Well, actually that’s not true.  There actually is a nanobot that can replicate, actually take apart molecules and rearrange them in fantastic ways.  Mother Nature has already created it.  It’s called the ribosome.  The ribosome can take hamburgers, milk shakes and turn them into a baby in nine months.  That is a miracle.  The ribosome takes hamburgers, French fries, potato chips, breaks apart the molecules and reassembles them into DNA.  Mother Nature has created the replicator.  It replicates humans, but what happens when humans create replicators by which we can replicate everything?  This is a very subversive idea.

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  • Tracy_R_Atkins

    This is a fantastic article and I couldn’t agree more. Kudo’s on the Star Trek reference to the episode “The Neutral Zone”. (In an odd coincidence, actor Leon Rippy, who played the hillbilly in that episode, is from the small town where I currently reside.)

    Scarcity is the mother of most crime, and most motivators of criminal acts. There will always be a criminal element, as sometimes crime, especially violence, happens for no reason at all in some cases. I feel that will become something that stays on an individual’s level, but will always be a shadow for us as a species.

    From a grand utopian society perspective, I think that most nation-state reasons for war will diminish greatly in abundance. We will be left with ideology as the prime motivator for violence on a global level, instead of resource acquisition. Overcoming that will take more than abundance, but perhaps the leadership of some factions will be demotivated when there is no longer profit in war.

  • Happy you like this post Tracy. My evil plan was to post it right before your interview because I thought it made for a great lead up story to your book. 😉

  • Tracy_R_Atkins

    HA! It is a great lead-up. I think he is spot on about scarcity, and i’m glad you brought it up in the interview too. I think that once you take out some of the things that really do hold us back in life, there is fertile ground for imagining something better.

  • There is a means ready to be developed that organizes our lives such that when our attention shifts in a specific direction, what supports that intention is readily available. Dr. Kaku, speaks like this is a “someday phenomenon,” however we have the means today to live in such an environment.

  • CM Stewart

    Post-scarcity will be the iconoclast of all the governmental systems throughout history. Without the “Haves VS Have Nots” foundation, even more people will turn to religion to create a continued “Haves VS Have Nots” foundation to give their lives meaning. Subversive, indeed!

  • It is good to see greater awareness of PS and utopia; perhaps my name is helping. On the issue of religion I have a short article about how religion is a product of scarcity, which I will publish soon, I’ll let you know when it is available.

  • CM Stewart

    Scarcity is also a product of religion. :)

  • LOL, but seriously. Here is the article where I touch upon how religion is a product of scarcity, religion is merely a method of control in a world of scarcity: https://www.singularityweblog.com/scarcity-causes-all-wars-and-violence/

  • Umm, a Trekki replicator can not be a product of nanotechnology, but an application of the quantization of spacetime.

  • Pingback: The Speculist » Blog Archive » Why Gratitude Matters — FastForward Radio()

  • Someone

    There’s that humans are invincible mentality and everything is perfect notion. Utopia literally means “no place”. It doesn’t exist. You may come close to it, but it will NOT and NEVER be perfect.

    Utopia in any form will never happen. We can only come as close to it as we possibly can.

  • Pingback: Utopia is Inevitable!()

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