A Google computer recently achieved “quantum supremacy,” performing a calculation that’d be impossible on a regular machine. Some scientists are up in arms – not at the breakthrough, but because “supremacy” sounds vaguely racist.
Put short, a quantum computer developed by Google managed to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. The research paper on the calculation is published in Nature, the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal, with the title “Quantum supremacy using a programmable superconducting processor.”
Some scientists were ecstatic, with one comparing the moment to the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903. Others were outraged. A group of 13 scientists signed a letter published in Nature, decrying the term “quantum supremacy” as racist.
“In our view, ‘supremacy’ has overtones of violence, neocolonialism and racism through its association with ‘white supremacy,’” they wrote. “We call for the community to use ‘quantum advantage’ instead.”
Because everything is racist in 2019, the group wasn’t done there. “Inherently violent language has crept into other branches of science as well,” they continued. “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.”
The crusading scientists are not the first to slip on the oppression goggles and see imaginary racism in the world of technology. Back in August a team of researchers from the Human Interface Technology lab in New Zealand declared it “problematic” that most robots are finished in white plastic, a trait they said raises “concerns about imperialism and white supremacy.”
Online, commenters mocked ‘Nature’ for publishing the letter. “No field is safe from the coercive influence of the collegiate language Staatspolizei,” one vented.
The woke-minded can rest easy, however, as the next generation of scientists will be free of such hideous unconscious racism. Pomona College in California held a mandatory ‘Decolonizing Physics and Astronomy’ symposium on Wednesday. During the event, astronomy and physics students were required to give presentations on “decolonization, microaggressions, implicit bias and other topics.”
How exactly the fields of physics and astronomy need to be decolonized is unclear, as is what exactly ‘decolonization’ actually means, but at least tacos were served.