“The Holy Grail” of manufacturing could be here within this century, says futurist Michio Kaku

The future could see all money digitised, purchases made by literally blinking your eyes, and anything able to be manufactured, molecule by molecule, according to futurist and bestselling author Michio Kaku.

Dr Kaku, who holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at the City College of New York, said that the current trends involving mass customisation and 3D printing would accelerate.

“I think there’ll be a mix between mass production, customised production, and small-scale production on 3D printers,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly, speaking about the near-term future.

Additive manufacturing would continue to rapidly gain in popularity, as others such as research firm Gartner have predicted, but would not replace mass production for cheap items any time soon.

“Mass production is still very efficient – one size that fits all,” he said. “But for customised work, for customised things, then we can start to use 3D printers.”

As computing power and chips became cheaper and cheaper, computers would be seen in more and more places.

The next step after the Google Glass and similar eyewear would be contact lenses containing a microchip and able to present images and information to the wearer.

“You’ll simply blink and you’ll be in the Holodeck,” he said, using one of several analogies borrowed from Star Trek to illustrate his predictions.

“You will blink and be able to create any imaginary scenario you want. If you’re an architect you can walk through the building you’re designing. Move objects around and have them immediately printed out on a 3D printer.”

Wallpaper would be replaced one day with flexible screens, able to present whatever the owner wished to see.

Further off, but probably within the 21st Century, the “Holy Grail of nanotechnology”, the nanobot (or molecular assembler, or Replicator) would come about.

“A Replicator allows you to create anything you want, simply by asking for it… And we know it’s possible because Mother Nature does it.

“Mother Nature can take a bunch of hamburger and french fries and turn it into a baby in nine months. That is amazing. In nine months, turn a bunch of french fries into a baby.

“And how does nature do it? Nature does it with a molecular assembler called a ribosome.”

Nanotechnology was currently primitive, noted the famous science communicator, with carbon nanotubes and graphene not finding their way into mainstream products.

However, there were reasons to be hopeful that improvements in slicing, dicing and reassembling molecules could eventually be a reality.

Nanomedicine was promising, and “just on the horizon”, and a Star Trek-style Replicator able to manufacture anything was an eventual possibility.

“Perhaps late in this century nanotechnology will create a nanobot by which we’ll be able to order not just mass produced parts, not just 3D printed parts, but anything you want,” he said.

Other predictions included unprecedented information available to consumers, and businesses trying to counter this through means such as data mining, targeted marketing and branding.

“In the future, when you walk into the store, your contact lens will scan everything and tell you who has the cheapest, who has the best product,” he said.

“You will know exactly what things really cost.”

Kaku, the keynote speaker at the second day of SolidWorks 2015, explained to the audience that his predictions were based on extensive interviews with elite researchers in various fields.

For his Physics of The Future book (published in 2012), for example, he interviewed 300 leading scientists.

Kaku has written multiple titles that have made The New York Times bestseller list, most recently 2014’s The Future of The Mind. He has also a regular guest on US TV and radio news programs and has appeared in many documentaries.

Manufacturers’ Monthly is attending SolidWorks World 2015 as a guest of Dassault Systemes.