Dr. Michio Kaku, the Henry Semat chair and professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York, as well as writer and frequent reporter and commentator on technology for the BBC and the Discovery Channel, is a prolific speaker at corporate and association events. At the 13th annual digitalNow conference at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in April, One+ caught up with Dr. Kaku to find out his thoughts about where future technology will take the meetings industry.
One+: Can you make an analogy between String Theory and the meeting and event industry? Dr. Kaku:
I am a theoretical physicist, and my life’s goal is to complete Einstein’s dream of a theory of everything in an equation no more than one inch long that summarizes everything that allows us to “read the mind of God”… When we work with String Theory, it’s all pure mathematics; it’s all theoretical. But eventually, we have to talk to other people. We have to interact with them. And that is where meetings and conferences are very important. So if [physicists] are at the forefront of all of this, why do we have meetings? The answer to this goes back to what I call the Cave Man Principle or Cave Woman Principle, which is that we haven’t changed in 100,000 years. We are hunter-gatherers basically, and hunter-gatherers live in packs. They bond because their survival depends on that. Your life depends on whether you can trust this guy over there to guard your back. And the only way to size people up is to have meetings, and that’s why we have meetings. We will still have meetings in the future, even in the digital future, because we are still, in essence, intelligent apes, people who hunt in packs.
One+: What was the last meeting or event you attended that significantly shifted your outlook/perspective about something?
Dr. Kaku: I do a lot of speaking at different conferences, and I have noticed a shift, generally. When I first started to speak to all these different groups 15 years ago, and tell them the Internet is going to be in your contact lens in the future, there was this, “C’mon, give me a break” response. Now when I speak at conferences and talk about this type of thing, their reaction is, “Of course!” So there has been this sea change in their collective attitude. This receptiveness to new technology is my takeaway from meetings and conferences, about how societal attitudes are changing. One+: Name one person that is most influential to you currently. Why do you feel he or she is so influential?
When I first started writing about technology of the future about 15 years ago, I interviewed a guy named Mark Weiser, who has passed away unfortunately. He worked for Xerox PARC. And while Xerox PARC does not ring a bell with most people, it is where they invented the personal computer, the mouse, Windows architecture and the laser printer. Now, that is the architecture for what has happened over the past 30 years. It was invented by the people at Xerox PARC including Mark Weiser. So Mark Weiser stands out in my memory as an incredible visionary regarding the future of technology.
One+: How do you envision the future of associations, and the ways people congregate professionally, changing in the next few years? Dr. Kaku:
Technology is a gigantic wave, and we have to be surfers on that wave. Just as we have conferences today, we will have conferences in the future, but we will have to combine all of the latest technology. Even today, we have conferences online and people can ask questions online. But in the future, there will be holographic images and people will appear as they appear in their living rooms and their holographic images will “attend” the conference. And then we will have the contact lenses with the Internet in them, you will look in the room and it will appear to be filled with people, but half of them will be holograms. But none of this will bring an end to the need for face-to-face meetings, no matter the technology advancement.
One+: How might leadership strategies change due to the changes in communication? Do you think they should change? Dr. Kaku
: With regard to communication technologies, it’s all a matter of the tools at hand. If a new hammer comes out and it’s all about the world according to that hammer, it’s all about it being a tool and the question of what you want to do with that tool. So it’s a means to an end rather than an end itself. So it’s the people who are leading these organizations who should see the next new “toy” that comes along as a tool. It’s a question of how you use it to reach your goal.
For example, let’s take data. There are a lot of technologies that will provide you with a lot of data now. But what’s the purpose of all that? In the corporate world, it is as a means of knowing the consumer. So whether you get to know the consumer through studying data about him or by meeting him and shaking his hand, it is still about getting to know your customer, which is the purpose of the data in the first place. So if you get caught up in the technology for technology’s sake, you risk losing sight of the goal.
So good leadership is always going to involve the North Star, so to speak, and that is keeping your original goal, which is unchanged by evolving technology. In corporate business, an unchangeable goal is to know your consumer, or with associations, know you membership, and be guided by that knowledge. And as part of gathering that knowledge, face-to-face communications, including meetings, will always have a place.
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