A.I. Today Is a ‘Glorified Tape Recorder,’ Says Theoretical Physicist Michio Kaku

Kaku represents a growing counter voice to the alarmism of A.I. posing an existential threat to humanity. 

Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku attends National Geographic’s “Limitless” Screening And Conversation at The 92nd Street Y, New York on November 16, 2022 in New York City. Getty Images

Recent advancements in artificial intelligence have induced as much excitement as anxiety. Many, including some industry leaders, fear A.I. could soon outsmart humans if not managed properly. But that worry is overblown, according to physicist and pop science writer Michio Kaku. In an interview with CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria yesterday (August 14), Kaku said A.I. applications like chatbots can benefit society and increase productivity, but fear of the technology has driven people to focus on the negative implications.

Kaku, a theoretical physics professor at the City College of New York, said tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT are nothing more than “glorified tape recorders.” ChatGPT is powered by large language models (LLMs), a subset of A.I. that trains algorithms with a large amount of human-generated text with the goal of producing text in a human-like way.

“It takes snippets of what’s on the web created by a human, splices them together and passes it off as if it created these things,” Kaku said. “And people are saying, ‘Oh my God, it’s a human, it’s humanlike.’”

Kaku represents a growing counter-voice to the alarmism of A.I. posing an existential threat to humanity. Yann LeCun, chief A.I. scientist at Meta and a computer science professor at New York University, told BBC in June some experts’ fears of A.I. taking over humanity were “preposterously ridiculous.”

I don’t think A.I. is going to take over. There’s no independent entity that wants to conquer you,” David Ferrucci, A.I. scientist and the creator of IBM Watson, told Observer recently. For now, A.I. technology is not nearly as skilled as humans. For example, chatbots cannot discern true from false, Kaku said. “That has to be put in by a human.” (Companies like Anthropic are in the process of developing language models that are aligned with human values.)

“Current LLMs (large language models), as useful as they are, make very stupid mistakes, revealing a complete lack of common sense,” LeCun wrote in a LinkedIn post in May. In an earlier post, he wrote, “Before we can get to ‘God-like A.I.’ we’ll need to get through ‘Dog-like A.I.'”

According to Kaku, today’s A.I. still operates within what he calls the “second stage of computer evolution,” which is based on a binary, one-and-zero, computing system. The first stage was when humans computed with sticks and stones, Kaku said.

“Mother Nature would laugh at us because Mother Nature does not use zeros and ones,” Kaku said. “Mother Nature computes on electrons, electron waves, waves that create molecules. And that’s why we’re now entering stage three.”

That stage three is quantum computing, said Kaku, whose research centers on quantum physics. Quantum computing is an emerging technology that uses various states of particles like electrons to vastly increase a computer’s processing power. Big Tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, all have quantum computing projects in the works.

A.I. Today Is a ‘Glorified Tape Recorder,’ Says Theoretical Physicist Michio Kaku