Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist, mathematician, string theorist and Columbia University professor, sat down with Joe Rogan on his podcast to explain the excitement around quantum computing. Greene told Rogan quantum computing could change the world. Quantum computing uses qubits, which can be manipulated during computation in more ways than classical computing can manipulate bits.
Greene, who is the author of The Elegant Universe and Until the End of Time, “is renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory, including the co-discovery of mirror symmetry and of spatial topology change,” according to his website. He joined Rogan on the JRE episode #1631 on April 8, 2021.
Greene told Rogan:
The overarching, from 30,000 feet view is that we will be able to take on calculations that we could never even imagine doing before. That could revolutionize artificial intelligence. What is general artificial intelligence? It’s about looking out at the world and seeing patterns. AlphaGo, this wonderful system that learned the game of Go and could beat masters in the world, how did it do it? It looked at a huge number of games and saw the patterns in that huge number of games and with that gained an expertise that allowed it to become the champion Go player in the world. So it’s all about pattern recognition, it’s all about finding patterns and that’s what a quantum computer principle could be incredibly powerful at.
So, artificial intelligence, in principal, could take an incredible leap forward. Simulating various quantum systems that we want to understand better. Now, when we simulate them on a computer, we are simulating them on a classical computer trying to mimic quantum mechanical behavior. Now, if you have a quantum computer you could actually simulate it with the very physical ideas that are happening in the real world. So now you have a confluence between methodology of the quantum simulator and the real world, allowing you to do things you couldn’t do before.
Greene added, “So, it’s just to say, that in principle, there’s a whole lot of understanding of the external world that these devices could give us. And that’s why people have become so excited about it.”
Greene said, “I full well anticipate the possibility for a computer to get to our level of cognitive power and beyond. And I full well anticipate there will be the artificial systems that say to us, ‘I have an inner world. I have conscious awareness.”
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Greene Said a Major Hurdle Right Now in Quantum Computing Is ‘They’re Not Reliable’
Greene said some how study quantum computing don’t think it could become a part of everyday life like classical computer systems are now.
“There are those in the field who are careful to say that they don’t think we’ll ever have quantum computing in everyday life. The reason for that largely is the cooling issue and it has to do with the difficulty in maintaining the stability of these devices. They’re so delicate. Whereas, you know, you drop your laptop or something you may crack it, but for the most part you drop your phone and it’s fine,” Greene told Rogan. “There are those who say we will never have these things in daily life, they will always be highly specialized, in laboratories that we somehow make use of as opposed to carry around in our pocket. But the same was said about ordinary computers 60-70-80 years ago, when a computer in those days filled an entire room with all these vacuum tubes. Whoever thought we’d be walking around with in our pocket something more powerful than that kind of device.”
I’m skeptical to people who say, ‘never, never, never,’ but in this case I’m almost open to the idea, because these systems are so incredibility delicate. One of the hurdles right now in quantum computing right now is they’re not reliable. These qubits, they can flip from one state to another, ruining your calculation very easily. So, what some of the quantum computer specialists are developing are what is known as quantum-error-correcting codes. Redundancies in the information in the quantum systems so when this ‘spin flip’ should happen you can kind of correct it down the line and not have to start the calculation from scratch.
Rogan asked Greene what is causing the inconsistencies. “Well, it’s just the delicacy. The way in which these spins are talking to each other can be disrupted by any kind of environmental influence at all. … Power surge, heat, any kind of environmental influence. And so, it’s just a technological hurdle. It’s not really a theoretical hurdle, we understand what’s going on, it’s quantum mechanics after all, but it’s a technological hurdle to realize this possibility.”
Greene told Rogan:
What will quantum computers give us? There are certain calculations that on a quantum computer you can do in the blink of an eye that might take years or centuries on a classical computer. Such as, there are certain encryption ideas that have been applied to securing information, you know in banks or that sort. In the old days, it was basically you build these huge prime numbers and you multiply them together and it would be the challenge of the person trying to hack your system to have to factor this big number, and it’s virtually impossible to do in any reasonable period of time. There’s an algorithm that people have come up with that works on a quantum computer that can factor these numbers instantaneously. So, that doesn’t sound so good. It means that information that was secure might not be secure.
But of course, then quantum computer scientists come along and they come up with a new encryption mechanism that’s quantum mechanically based and that one would be unbreakable even with a quantum computer. So that’s the kind of development that’s actually already starting to happen.
Greene said he has a student who works for a company that generates “quantum random numbers,” that can be used for security, so no one knows what number you actually have.
Greene Told Rogan We Could See Artificial Systems With an ‘Inner World’
Rogan said it is interesting that games are often used by scientists to figure out how “intelligent and how powerful computers are.” Rogan added, “For the longest time it was, ‘could a computer beat a chess master?’ And now, that problem has been solved. Not only can a computer beat a chess master, but they always will beat a chess master now, which is really fascinating to people.”
Greene said, “There’s a way in which that makes a lot of sense. Because, what is a game? A game is an artificial universe with very simple rules. And therefore it’s a simplified version of reality. And it’s also a well-posed game. Tic-Tac-Toe versus chess, the difference is, in Tic-Tac-Toe it’s so simple there’s no creativity involved. If you play it correctly, you’ll always have a draw. But in chess, because of the great number of possibilities there’s a lot of creativity that comes into play.”
Greene added, “So it’s a universe, with a fixed set of rules, it’s simplified and it has the opportunity for human beings to be creative. So it’s a wonderful testing ground for computers because if a computer can beat a human in that domain, now we can say, ‘Aha,’ that computer in some sense is creative.”
Greene told Rogan:
And the thing that we usually look to to define ourselves as human beings, how do we differ from other things in the world, the inanimate world, we are creative. We can come up with ideas. We can come up with novel, innovative ideas, that’s kind of how we define ourselves. So when a computer starts to do that, it starts to challenge our humanity. And I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think we are as different from the external world as we perhaps like to think. We are collections of particles governed by the laws of physics. And I think it’s spectacular that a collection of particles under the iron clad rules of physics can be creative, can come up with ideas, can figure out quantum physics and general relativity. How spectacular is that? But all we are is big collections of particles governed by those laws. And all a computer is, a big collection of particles governed by those rules.
Greene said the difficulty when computers reach a level of cognitive power similar to humans will be how to test them. “Now how will we test that computer to see how it was programmed to say that or whether it actually is having that inner world? I don’t know, that’s a tough one. But it’s a question we face all the time.”
Greene added, “Like, I assume you have an inner world inside your head, I don’t know that for a fact. I assume you’re making the same assumption about me. How do we come to that? We come to it based on the fact that we’re having a conversation and we observe each other’s behaviors and all of that comes together to suggest that we are each roughly the same and therefore I assume that what’s happening in your head is roughly the same kind of processes that’s happening inside of mine. We have to infer it.”
He told Rogan, “And we’re going to have to infer it for artificial systems too. And if you walk down the street and there’s an artificial system sitting on a park bench, you know hand on its head, saying, ‘I’m so worried, what’s it all about? What’s life?’ And if it’s real, you’re going to say, ‘Wow, that computer is having an existential crisis.’ And there’s a real inner world happening there. What other conclusion could you draw?”