On August 13, Fareed Zakaria interviewed physicist Michio Kaku about the importance of artificial intelligence on his GPS show. Kaku described the new AI chatbots as glorified tape recorders. I think he is right. They can be useful, but they will not change the world the dramatic way that the media is describing. Kaku thought the bigger change was going to come from quantum computers. Here is a transcript of that interview.
ZAKARIA: Artificial intelligence is the hottest new thing in technology right now, but my next guest says there is something else we should be paying attention to, quantum computing. It is an emerging field that aims to use the weird properties of quantum particles to make computers that have vastly more processing power than computers have today and that could help us solve all kinds of difficult problems. I spoke to the famous physicist Michio Kaku who has a new book called "Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything."
ZAKARIA: Michio Kaku, welcome again.
MICHIO KAKU, THEORETICAL PHYSICIST: Mm-hmm.
ZAKARIA: Tell me what is your take on the A.I. chatbots, ChatGPT, that everybody is so obsessed by now.
KAKU: I think the media is hyperventilating over the implications of these chatbots. First of all, they are productive. They're going to speed up the ability to produce materials. This could be an advance for society in general. However, people are focusing on the negative aspects of chatbots as well because people are afraid.
However, what is a chatbot? A chatbot is a glorified tape recorder. It takes snippets of what is on the Web, created by a human, splices them together and passes them off as if it created these things. And people are saying, oh, my God, it is a human. It is human like. The chatbot simply rearranges what is ever on the internet already. It is a tape recorder of a very advance type that does not understand truth, what is false, does not understanding slander versus reality. That has to be put in by a human.
ZAKARIA: So, the real shift that you say is going to take place is once we get to quantum computing?
KAKU: We've gone through three basic stages of computer revolution. First stage was when we computed with sticks, stones, levers, gears, pulleys, string. That was the first stage, the analog stage. And then comes World War II. At that point we switched to electricity, and we switched to transistors, and that gave us the microchip and the digital revolution of today. We're in stage two. Now --
ZAKARIA: Which is the ones and zeros, the bits and bytes.
KAKU: That is right. Zeros and ones, zeros and ones. But Mother Nature would laugh at us. Because Mother Nature does not use zeros and ones, zeros and ones. Mother nature computes at electrons, electron waves. Waves that create molecules and that is why we're now entering stage three. Silicon Valley could become a rust belt unless they get on the bandwagon.
ZAKARIA: But would it be fair to say that the shift that you're describing, quantum computing, basically we are now trying to mimic what nature does because an electron is not a particle, it is a wave or it's sort of both and that is where computing has to go.
KAKU: My God. I think you got it. That is exactly what we're talking about. Because, for example, take a look at a transistor. A transistor has two states, up and down, left and right, true and false. So, think of an atom that spins either up or down, two states. The digital revolution is based on that idea.
However, a quantum computer can be at any angle. Now, think about that. There are infinitely more states that you can create if an electron is allowed to wobble and point in any direction whatsoever rather than up or down.
ZAKARIA: So, a quantum computing is a computing using not computer chips but using these waves or these --
KAKU: That is right.
ZAKARIA: Can you explain?
KAKU: The various states of the waves. These waves can vibrate in any direction and they're simultaneous. So that it can actually calculate two or three places at the same time.
So, think of a mouse in a maze. A digital computer will calculate the trajectory of each mouse at every joint, at every place where there is a decision to be made in a maze. That takes forever. Now, a quantum computer instantly analyzes all possible modes, all possible trajectories simultaneously. Now, that violates common sense. Common sense said you cannot be in two places at the same time. Well, get with it. In the quantum theory, you can be at many places at the same time. And that is the power of quantum computers.
ZAKARIA: What would it look like? Would my laptop look the same?
KAKU: When you look at a quantum computer it is like a chandelier, a gigantic device. But the actual -- the actual computation is done at the very bottom.
What is this chandelier? The chandelier is cooling pipes, cooling pipes to bring it down to near absolute zero where there is no vibrations. If somebody sneezes a block away, that could ruin your whole calculation. And so, you want everything to be frozen near absolute zero.
ZAKARIA: But I'm also struck by -- tell me if I'm wrong, when you hear about all of this artificial intelligence and the amount of computing power you need to produce this stuff, and the amount of energy you need to run all of these computers, I think, God, the brain is very energy efficient. We're able to make all of these calculating. We don't need all this cooling. We are somehow doing it using much less energy than these vast computers with all their due heat.
KAKU: Mother Nature is still ahead of us. Our brain is the most complex object in the known universe. We knew of nothing in the universe more complex than the human brain which has 100 billion neurons. Each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons and it is all done at room temperature. And so, we're playing catch up, catch up to Mother Nature.
Mother nature is quantum and that is why we have to make the transition, from digital computers to quantum computers. And that will allow us to calculate diseases, for example, that are at the quantum level, cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease.
These are diseases at the molecular level. We're powerless to cure these diseases because we have to learn the language of nature which is the language of molecules and quantum electrons.
ZAKARIA: Michio Kaku, always a pleasure to talk to you.