Does Not Compute: Science Tries to Cancel the Term 'Quantum Supremacy' - for Obvious Reasons

(AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

Some people believe you should stay away from the very appearance of evil.

Count a couple writers for Scientific American among them.

In 2012, physicist John Preskill coined a term noting the superiority of quantum computers.


It didn’t, as they say, age well.

John’s jargon: “quantum supremacy.”

But don’t misunderstand — he wasn’t totally satisfied with the wording, even indicating he’d be fine if someone came up with something better — you know, something with supremacy.

Speaking of, 16 scholars went to bat for a less Nazi-ish name in a late-2019 issue of the journal Nature.

Here’s what they had to say:

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. …

In our view, “supremacy” has overtones of violence, neocolonialism and racism through its association with “white supremacy.” 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.

And now — in a new article for Scientific American — the topic’s back on top.

Math Professors Ian Durham (St. Anselm College) and Karoline Wiesnerhe (University of Bristol) lay it out:


The word supremacy — having “more power, authority or status than anyone else” — is closely linked to “white supremacy.”

And don’t call it their opinion:

This isn’t supposition; it’s fact. The Corpus of Contemporary American English finds “white supremacy” is 15 times more frequent than the next most commonly used two-word phrase, “judicial supremacy.”

Moreover, it isn’t just the case over here in the States:

Though English is the global lingua franca of science, it is notable that [China’s University of Science and Technology quantum computing research team] avoided “quantum supremacy” because in Chinese, the character meaning “supremacy” also has uncomfortable, negative connotations. The problem is not confined merely to English.

The professors really go to bat for getting rid of the KKK-like characterization. They even throw a bone to Biden:

What’s in a name? It’s not just that quantum supremacy by any other name would smell sweeter. By making the case for quantum primacy we hope to illustrate some of the social and scientific issues at hand. In President Joe Biden’s letter to his science adviser, the biologist Eric Lander, he asks “How can we ensure that Americans of all backgrounds are drawn into both the creation and the rewards of science and technology?” One small change can be in the language we use.


“GitHub, for example,” they point out, “abandoned the odious ‘master/slave’ terminology after pressure from activists.”

It all comes down to an insufficient number of nonwhites in the field:

Were physics, computer science and engineering more diverse, perhaps we would not still be having this discussion, which one of us wrote about four years ago. But in the U.S., when only 2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics are awarded to Black students, when Latinos comprise less than 7 percent of engineers, and women account for a mere 12 percent of full professors in physics, this is a conversation that needs to happen. As things stand, “quantum supremacy” can come across as adding insult to injury.

Not everyone’s so jazzed for a name change.

The Wall Street Journal called the call-out “quantum wokeness.”

“Political correctness barges into a computer science breakthrough,” The Editorial Board wrote.

Furthermore — as reported by The College Fix — linguist Steven Pinker heralded the hubbub a “dumbing down” and a “prissy banning of words by academics [that] should be resisted.”

Will the word-whack win?

I predict Yes.

And, I think, prepare for more.

While you’re at it, maybe invest in a collector’s item.


Get the movie on blu-ray before Universal Pictures and the rest of Hollywood gets just one more degree woker…

Any day now, this flick could be gone with the wind — like Gone With the Wind:



See more pieces from me:

Virginia School District Tries to Deal With ‘Secret Enemies List’ of Parents Against Critical Race Theory

University Professor Calls out the Racist ‘Dehumanization’ of Saying Asians are Good at Math

Wax Museum Removes Replica of Donald Trump After Visitors Punch It in the Face

Find all my RedState work here.

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