Open Thread for discussing the term “Quantum Supremacy”

This is an open thread in case anyone wants to discuss the merits and demerits of using the term “quantum supremacy”.

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2 Responses to Open Thread for discussing the term “Quantum Supremacy”

  1. Frédéric Grosshans says:

    As a non-native English speaker, I do not feel qualified to propose a replacement term. As a physicist, this lack of qualification does not prevent me to comment 😉

    Actually, in my native language (French), « suprématie » is devoid of racist overtone (except when referring to specific US movements), while « supérorité » has been used by racists for more than a century. Therefore, “quantum superiority”, which has been proposed as an alternative to “quantum supremacy” makes me cringe while the later sounds ok to me. Of course, I defer to the judgement of native speakers on this, and I try to speak of “quantum superiority” in English, and «suprématie quantique» in French; given the international nature of our field, I think this kind of effect increases the difficulty to change an established nomenclature, since the instinctive overtone which maybe are obvious to US speakers given the current US political situation are probably much less than obvious to international (or at least non native speakers) researchers.

    That is not to say that I do not understand rationally the need to avoid it.
    But the concept of “doing with quantum physics something de facto impossible classically” is a powerful concept, this leads to a temptation to use the term associated to it, especially since I do not “feel” the overtones as strongly as native speaker (presumably) feel.

  2. Varun Narasimhachar says:

    Thank you for opening up this forum.

    Words in human language typically have not only multiple meanings, but also multiple common associations. Not infrequently, a word has some associations that are unpleasant to think about. As users of language, we routinely navigate this sometimes-unpleasant landscape. We have many tools that help us keep communication focused and efficient. For example, we keep track of context. Importantly, agents participating in a conversation place a certain level of good faith in one another, in several respects: it is generally assumed that the agents intend to make sense, that each utterance is probably topically connected with the previous, etc. A popularly accessible resource on these auxiliary but indispensable tools of language use can be found here: https://aeon.co/ideas/what-we-say-vs-what-we-mean-what-is-conversational-implicature

    Coming to the specific phenomenon of words that evoke certain mentally unpleasant associations in some people: were such a word to occur in a very ambiguous context where it is difficult to estimate the intent of the agent who uttered (or wrote) it, then a case can be made for taking exception to such usage. But in a scientific context, where the intent is universally understood to be benign, the agent making the utterance should be exempt from any responsibility to explain themselves. If some obviously-unintended reading of the word evokes negative associations, the listener (reader) must be trusted to perform the simple rational task of mentally suppressing such a reading. If they insist on indulging the unintended reading and thereby suffering the unpleasant effects of irrelevant negative associations, the onus is on them to explain this seemingly perverse act of bad faith and breach of basic conversational convention. I reiterate that such basic conventions have been routine necessities of human language all along, and will remain to be in any computationally efficient framework of language, no matter what moral acrobatics we play in a futile effort to make language unconditionally unambiguous.

    A related point I would like to make is that every time we retire a word from civil discourse because some of its readings evoke unpleasant reactions, we are effectively granting semantic victory to the unpleasant readings over all of the other, benign and possibly useful, readings.

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