A long time ago in a mental universe far far away I gave a talk to a theory seminar about quantum algorithms. An excerpt from the abstract:
Quantum computers can outperform their classical brethren at a variety of algorithmic tasks….[yadda yadda yadaa deleted]… This talk will assume no prior knowledge of quantum theory…
The other day I was looking at recent or forthcoming interesting quantum talks and I stumbled upon one by a living pontiff:
In this talk, I’ll describe connections between the unique games conjecture (or more precisely, the closely relatedly problem of small-set expansion) and the quantum separability problem… [amazing stuff deleted]…The talk will not assume any knowledge of quantum mechanics, or for that matter, of the unique games conjecture or the Lasserre hierarchy….
And another for a talk to kick off a program at the Simons institute on Hamiltonian complexity (looks totally fantastic, wish I could be a fly on the wall at that one!):
The title of this talk is the name of a program being hosted this semester at the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing….[description of field of Hamiltonian complexity deleted...] No prior knowledge of quantum mechanics or quantum computation will be assumed.
Talks are tricky. Tailoring your talk to your audience is probably one of the trickier sub-trickinesses of giving a talk. But remind me again, why are we apologizing to theoretical computer scientists / mathematicians (which are likely the audiences for the three talks I linked to) for their ignorance of quantum theory? Imagine theoretical computer science talks coming along with a disclaimer, “no prior knowledge of the PCP theorem is assumed”, “no prior knowledge of polynomial-time approximation schemes is assumed”, etc. Why is it still considered necessary, decades after Shor’s algorithm and error correction showed that quantum computing is indeed a fascinating and important idea in computer science, to apologize to an audience for a large gap in their basic knowledge of the universe?
As a counter argument, I’d love to hear from a non-quantum computing person who was swayed to attend a talk because it said that no prior knowledge of quantum theory is assumed. Has that ever worked? (Or similar claims of a cross cultural prereq swaying you to bravely go where none of your kind has gone before.)