At a Scientific American article entitled,”Physicists Must Be More Careful They Name Things,” two academics and a journalist call for the abandonment of the term”quantum supremacy” in math since it’s”uncomfortably reminiscent of’white supremacy.” Profession Professor Ian Durham (St. Anselm College), freelance writer Daniel Garisto, and Math Professor Karoline Wiesner (University of Bristol) all concur that the term is not racist but nevertheless think that it has to be changed to prevent”adding insult to injury”
The term was coined in 2012 from John Preskill to explain how quantum computers can execute jobs would take even supercomputers decades to finish.
The Report struggles to make the instance that this clearly non-racial term holds a dangerous possibility of being viewed as racist, including reference to additional conditions such as”judicial supremacy” which might also presumably have to be abandoned:
The term supremacy–having”more energy, authority or standing than anyone else”–will be closely connected to”white supremacy.” This is not supposition; it is reality. The Corpus of Contemporary American English finds”white supremacy” is 15 times more frequent than the next most commonly used two-word term,”judicial supremacy.”
Since”judicial supremacy” is much more prevalent than”quantum supremacy,” it would appear the same debate for karma could apply.
It’s not apparent if the issue is only”supremacy.” Can Pareto superiority also raise such problems?
We’ve previously discussing the dropping of terms as offensive regardless of their clearly non-sexist or non-racist meaning. These efforts are somewhat reminiscent of our own discussion at George Washington on the use of this Colonials as a moniker. The student organizers requested”When we talk about the Colonial ever, what does it imply? And is that what we want our school individuality to be?” The emphasis however is that the foundation of colonialism in the world, perhaps not the Colonial as a term in the USA. Just as we strive to comprehend the meaning and customs of different countries, there ought to be a modicum of effort to comprehend our own meanings and customs. They were not supporters of colonialism. For those interested in GW, that is part of knowing our history and our own values. The success is pretending that they are some thing that they were not and then changing the expression to deny a falsely claimed meaning.
The authors take a jab in Professor Steve Pinker who we previously discussed as the target of an anti-free language effort. Pinker lashed out in these efforts to ban words and regulate speech. The authors reject that premise:
It’s correct that”supremacy” is not a magical word, that its meaning comes from conference, not conjurers. But the circumstance of”quantum supremacy,” which Pinker fails, is that of a historically white, male-dominated field. Acknowledging this by looking for greater speech is a simple attempt to be considerate, not prissy.
They are not the first to produce this suggestion. A 2019 letter from Nature, the magazine has been known for using”quantum advantage” and the authors argued:
In our opinion,’supremacy’ has overtones of violence, neocolonialism and racism through its affiliation with’white supremacy’. Inherently violent speech has crept into other branches of science as well — in human and robotic spaceflight, by way of example, terms like’conquest’,”colonization’ and’settlement’ evoke the terra nullius arguments of settler colonialism and must be contextualized against ongoing issues of neocolonialism.
It’s hard to take issue with such articles without running the danger of being referred to as insensitive or insufficiently concerned about racism. That is not true. Many of us fail to realize how such attempts progress real racial justice as opposed to shallow advancement through campaigns.
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