Envisioning Tomorrow, Today

Coming days can be viewed through different eyes: with either fear, stress and horror — or optimism, curiosity and awe. Each was on full display during Retail’s Digital Summit as self-described “relatively cynical” comedian, podcaster, writer and director Marc Maron interviewed renowned theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku.

Kaku spoke of a world where the Internet would be accessed via contact lens, where robots would replace people in many jobs — but not those that require common sense, pattern recognition, human-to-human interaction and self-awareness — and the digitization of money would allow purchases with the blink of an eye. He also spoke of infrastructure one day being developed to allow highways of drones in the sky, as well as two tiers of the Internet, one considered unhackable for a premium.


See more insights from Retail’s Digital Summit: Check out the event recap.

Maron, meanwhile, attempted to work through the areas he finds “troubling,” ranging from data security to being overwhelmed by information to the point of paralysis. In one exchange, he also tried to understand Kaku’s daily work.   

“If you own a retail company, you wake up in the morning and you say, ‘How can I be more competitive? How should I reach the consumer? How can I establish my brand?’” said Kaku, co-founder of String Field Theory. “When we physicists wake up in the morning, we say, ‘I want to create a universe. If I create a universe, what kind of universe do I want? What kind of black holes, stars, galaxies, atoms, do I want?’ And then you try to, you know, juggle your equation to see how close you come to the actual black holes, the actual stars and galaxies that exist.”

Find out more about Kaku’s vision for the future of commerce: Read NRF’s interview on Medium.

Find out more about Kaku’s vision for the future of commerce: Read NRF’s interview on Medium.

Kaku, author of numerous books including international best-sellers “Hyperspace,” “Visions” and “Beyond Einstein,” believes retail will change dramatically in the future. But not all of it. He does not foresee bricks-and-mortar going away; as we are descended from hunters, the idea of being able to see and touch — “proof of the kill” — will always be important. In the same way, he envisions drones will co-exist with delivery trucks and the mail system, just as television did not replace the movies and movies did not replace live theater.

That said, the opportunity is ripe for retailers to investigate what’s going on around them and to adopt new ideas, preferably right behind a leader who will make the initial mistakes.

“They have to realize that these technologies that we’ve talked about — virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, 3D printers, drones — they’re in their infancy,” Kaku said. “Now is the time to get in on the ground floor … . Those who do not understand the technology will go bankrupt.”

Video of The Future of Tech and Commerce with Dr. Michio Kaku