Is Quantum Supremacy Racist? A group of 13 academics think so.

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A group of 13 academics are taking issue with the term, Quantum Supremacy.

Because it’s racist. In a letter to Nature, the scientists say that historical context of the word promotes further divisions in society. They like the term, quantum advantage, instead.

The letter states, “We take issue with the use of ‘supremacy’ when referring to quantum computers that can out-calculate even the fastest supercomputers (F. Arute et al. Nature 574, 505–510; 2019). We consider it irresponsible to override the historical context of this descriptor, which risks sustaining divisions in race, gender and class. We call for the community to use ‘quantum advantage’ instead.”

Further, they say the term promotes colonialism.

“In our view, ‘supremacy’ has overtones of violence, neocolonialism and racism through its association with ‘white supremacy,’” the scientists write. “Inherently violent language has crept into other branches of science as well — in human and robotic spaceflight, for example, terms such as ‘conquest’, ‘colonization’ and ‘settlement’ evoke the terra nullius arguments of settler colonialism and must be contextualized against ongoing issues of neocolonialism.”

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However, some quantum physicists countered that quantum advantage has its own distinct meaning. Quantum advantage simply means that a quantum computer can make a better or faster calculation than a classical computer. However, quantum supremacy means that the quantum device not only performs the calculation better than a classical computer, but does so in a way that a classical computer could never match.

The scientists respond that technical meaning should not override the possible social implications.

They write, “The community claims that quantum supremacy is a technical term with a specified meaning. However, any technical justification for this descriptor could get swamped as it enters the public arena after the intense media coverage of the past few months.”

How about Quantum Embiggenous?

Matt Swayne

With a several-decades long background in journalism and communications, Matt Swayne has worked as a science communicator for an R1 university for more than 12 years, specializing in translating high tech and deep tech for the general audience. He has served as a writer, editor and analyst at The Quantum Insider since its inception. In addition to his service as a science communicator, Matt also develops courses to improve the media and communications skills of scientists and has taught courses. [email protected]

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