This is what a certain occupant of the White House has done to us, and, in this, case by “us” I mean those of us who scribble about politics.
Thomas Friedman, the Minnesota boy made good and longtime New York Times columnist, wanted to write a column about the rise and future of the “cognitive computer,” like Watson, the IBM computer that defeated all-time champ Ken Jennings on Jeopardy in 2013.
Friedman’s latest column isn’t about President Trump. Not even slightly. Except that Friedman felt he had to start the column by apologizing for and explaining why the column wasn’t about Trump.
Here’s Friedman’s first paragraph (after which he doesn’t mention Trump again until his last paragraph):
Donald Trump poses a huge dilemma for commentators: to ignore his daily outrages is to normalize his behavior, but to constantly write about them is to stop learning. Like others, I struggle to get this balance right, which is why I pause today to point out some incredible technological changes happening while Trump has kept us focused on him — changes that will pose as big an adaptation challenge to American workers as transitioning from farms to factories once did.
After that, Friedman proceeds to make his argument about the change of epic proportions that “cognitive computing” will bring to the next generation:
Quantum computers process information, using the capabilities of quantum physics, differently from traditional computers. “Whereas normal computers store information as either a 1 or a 0, quantum computers exploit two phenomena — entanglement and superposition — to process information,” explains MIT Technology Review. The result is computers that may one day “operate 100,000 times faster than they do today,” adds Wired magazine.
I have no thoughts on how big a deal “cognitive computing” will turn out to be. I suppose possible future impact might be affected by whether Trump, who has repeatedly asked why he can’t use nuclear weapons, can get through his incumbency without destroying the world.
But that, of course, only underlines Friedman’s tragicomic first paragraph. After laying out his facts and arguments about the quantum computers, he ends with this apology, which brings him back to where he started:
Anyway, I didn’t mean to distract from the “Trump Reality Show,” but I just thought I’d mention that Star Wars technology is coming not only to a theater near you, but to a job near you. We need to be discussing and adapting to its implications as much as we do Trump’s tweets.