Monday, April 10, 2017

Quantum supremacy and Nazis

Steve Flammia writes:
The term “quantum supremacy” is the fashionable name for the quantum experiments attempting to beat classical computers at some given task, not necessarily a useful one. According to current usage, the term (strangely) only applies to computational problems. The theoretical and experimental work towards demonstrating this is wonderful. But the term itself, as any native English speaker can tell you, has the unfortunate feature that it immediately calls to mind “white supremacy”. ...

The humor surrounding this term has always been in bad taste — talking about “quantum supremacists” and jokes about disavowing their support — but it was perhaps tolerable before the US election in November. Given that there are several viable alternatives, for example “quantum advantage” or even “quantum superiority”, can we please agree as a community to abandon this awful term? ...

Update: Ashley Montanaro points out that “advantage” should potentially be reserved for a slight advantage. I maintain that “superiority” is still a good choice, and I also offer “dominance” as another alternative.
A leading dictionary defines:
Definition of white supremacist

: a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races
What does this have to do with the November election? Almost nothing, except that the NY Times and others have been trying to expand usage of the term, such as in this:
Let us pause. Not even two years ago, white supremacists like Mr. Schoep would rant from the fringe of the fringe, their attention-desperate events rarely worth mention. Today, though, the Schoeps of America are undergoing a rebranding, as part of the so-called alt-right: a grab bag of far-right groups generally united by the belief that white identity has become endangered in what they deride as this era of dangerous diversity and political correctness.
So if someone says that political correctness has become hostile to white identity, then he might be called a white supremacist.

The term "quantum supremacy" has become common, and the quantum computing advocates do appear to believe in the inherent superiority of such computers, and that such computers should computationally dominate others.

Before the term became popular, I used terms like "super-Turing". We need some such term, because the interesting thing about quantum computers is that they promise to outperform a Turing machine and expand computational possibilities.

I think that the term was coined or popularized by this 2012 John Preskill paper:
Quantum computing and the entanglement frontier

Quantum information science explores the frontier of highly complex quantum states, the "entanglement frontier." This study is motivated by the observation (widely believed but unproven) that classical systems cannot simulate highly entangled quantum systems efficiently, and we hope to hasten the day when well controlled quantum systems can perform tasks surpassing what can be done in the classical world. One way to achieve such "quantum supremacy" would be to run an algorithm on a quantum computer which solves a problem with a super-polynomial speedup relative to classical computers,
He followed with this 2014 paper:
The technology for controlling quantum systems is advancing rapidly, fuelling the hope that in a few decades human civilization will enter an age of quantum supremacy, in which quantum computers solve problems that are beyond the reach of classical digital computers, such as factoring large numbers and simulating the physics of complex molecules. But to realize that dream, we must overcome a formidable obstacle: that of “decoherence”, which ordinarily makes large quantum systems behave classically. Entanglement among the qubits in a quantum computer is the source of its power, but entanglement between the computer and its unobserved environment is our enemy, driving decoherence.
Does this sound like white supremacy to you? If I change a few words, I get:
The technology for controlling modern systems is advancing rapidly, fuelling the hope that in a few decades human civilization will enter an age of white supremacy, in which white men solve problems that are beyond the reach of non-whites and women, such as managing large nations and simulating the sex habits of Jewish perverts. But to realize that dream, we must overcome a formidable obstacle: that of “black lives matter”, which ordinarily makes large diverse systems behave like animals. The secret handshake among the elites in a white-dominated nation is the source of its power, but integration between the whites and its unobserved environment is our enemy, driving desegregation.
No, I pretty sure that Preskill is not a Nazi writing in code.

Google might be run by Nazis. It appears to be on a mission to destroy our privacy, and building a computer to factor large numbers would be a step towards that goal.

There is something creepy about quantum computing, like Nazi eugenics. It is very ambitious, technologically hopeless, and immediately harmful to most ppl. I do not think that we need to try to stop it because it will fail anyway.


  1. Google Nazis. See the 666 Chrome logo and the Satanic symbol for the play store.

  2. This BS about cryptography, discrete log, RSA, lattice etc... is really an overblown one-trick pony from the math department. When my monthly credit card bill comes, I can do a simple key exchange with the credit card company (even one-time codes with a printer, wiggling my mouse). People order things on the phone all day. Just a few extra steps. No big deal. GPS is just a thoughtless calibration and they also make a big deal out of it. What is the motivation for all of this Sputnik propaganda? It's the fact that these people haven't had a success since the bicentennial but they employ a lot of PhDs.