Physicist Michio Kaku discusses digitizing consciousness, colonizing Mars at Berkeley event

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Physicist, futurist and best-selling author Michio Kaku took audience members on a journey from the universe’s deepest reaches to its most fundamental building blocks at an event hosted by KPFA radio station Tuesday night at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

The event celebrated Kaku’s new book, “The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.” Kaku, who received his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1972, shared with the audience his vision of a future in which private enterprise will drive a new era of space exploration and colonization and a person may be able to achieve a form of immortality by uploading information — including one’s personality and memories — into a digital recreation of one’s self.

Kaku said during the event that he grew up in the Bay Area and that his parents were sent to internment camps during World War II. As a child, Kaku displayed outstanding scientific abilities.

“In (high school), I went to my mom and said, ‘Do I have permission to build a 2.3 million electron volt atom smasher —a betatron — in the garage?’ And my mom kind of stared at me and said, ‘Sure, why not. Just take out the garbage first,’ ” Kaku said.

During the event, Kaku took audience members beyond the solar system and to the stars. He described how physicist Stephen Hawking has proposed laser-propelled chip-sized ships — a human technology that could reach the stars. Kaku also predicted that one day, humans will be able to travel to the distant reaches of the universe by creating digital downloads of their consciousness that they can beam across the heavens.

Kaku said while science fiction inspired many pioneers in astrophysics and space exploration, the ability to travel to and populate other planets is now entering the realm of scientific possibility. Technological advancements and the support of private investors, such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, could bring new realms of space exploration, such as transforming Mars into a habitable colony, within humanity’s grasp.

“We are on the verge of a golden era of space travel,” Kaku said. “But this is a new golden era. We have private billionaires with vision, who as children dreamed of visiting space.”

While scientific advancements may make this exploration possible, Kaku said he thinks that colonizing other planets is important because man-made or cosmic disasters will cause the inevitable destruction of the Earth. At the same time, however, Kaku emphasized that the ability to reach other planets does not relieve humanity of its responsibility to fight man-made destruction.

“We don’t want to run away from the problems of the Earth, like global warming, nuclear proliferation, biogen warfare. But we need an insurance policy,” Kaku said. “The dinosaurs had no space program.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.