“Coverage of Mr Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever.” (1)
A recent review of CNN’s news coverage found 92% of it devoted to Donald J. Trump.
The details are astonishing. Of 13 hours, 27 minutes of actual news coverage on the day chosen, 12 hours, 19 minutes, was devoted to the Trump presidency. Everything else? “A mere 68 minutes – a little more than three minutes per hour” versus nearly 40 for Trump. And while CNN claims just to be doing the right thing (and it has been viciously attacked by Trump for its coverage), doing the right thing is also proving highly profitable. (2)
Taking a different tack, New York Times journalist Farhad Manjoo decided to try and spend a week entirely avoiding everything about Trump, and following other stories instead. “In one way, my experiment failed: I could find almost no Trump-free part of the press.” (3)
Manjoo goes further: “He has taken up semi-permanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.” Trump in sport, reality TV, fictional storylines.
Yet it’s not simply wall-to-wall coverage. The Washington Post newspaper, famed for its role in bringing down Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, has made an unprecedented move. It now has a subtitle, or a “strapline”, to use the British marketing term. It’s a Trump strapline: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” (4) The paper has redefined its identity for the Trump era. Have no fear, there will certainly be no darkness for Trump in the pages of the Post. On a quick check today, 13 out of the top 14 stories on the paper’s website are on this one subject. If Democracy Dies in Darkness, what dies when the super-trooper shines every day and all day on this one fellow?
If the “Trump rate” is the extraordinary CNN 92%, what are they not reporting?
Here are five stories that have broken since the election in the technology field. Every one of them is important. Enormously important. Every one of them has had far less prominence than is due. Because of the Trump phenomenon.
- China’s Quantum Quantum Leap
In a move with potentially enormous implications for U.S. and western science and security, China has – according to Scientific American – tested the spooky phenomenon known as “quantum entanglement” at a much greater distance than has been done before. Quantum mechanics is hard for us to grasp as it involves properties of matter that seem to make no sense, including “entanglement” – essentially, that a change made to the state of one particle will immediately affect another, even if it is at a great distance.
The Chinese experiment involved a satellite and stations on the ground more than 1,200km apart. According to Scientific American, the test “firmly establishes China as the front-runner in a burgeoning ‘quantum space race’ to create a secure, quantum-based global communications network – that is, a potentially unhackable ‘quantum internet’ that would be of immense geopolitical importance.”
“China has taken the leadership in quantum communication,” says Nicolas Gisin, a physicist at the University of Geneva. (5)
- CRISPR: editing our genes
For generations, scientists, ethicists and the public have displayed anxiety as genetics has moved ever nearer to perfecting the methods that would enable us to make changes in humans – including changes that our children will inherit. While the motivation may be to cure disease, once changes can be made we all know that there will be pressure to get rid of features like shortness and fatness and baldness – and engineer in superior looks and intelligence.
Until recently, this has seemed far-fetched as only very limited efforts to make genetic changes have been possible. But fast progress in gene editing has now led to expectation of human use of the technology with the development of CRISPR – and on February 15, 2017, a long-running patent dispute as to who owns the technology was finally decided by the US Patent and Trademark Office. (6) In a clarion call in the May issue of Wired Magazine, futurist Amy Webb calls for a “national biology policy” that encompasses the ethical implications of the revolution in genetics. “The US currently has no co-ordinated biology strategy. As a result, CRISPR, along with other emerging technologies, is developing faster than our government’s ability to address it.” (7)
- Automation and jobs
The threat of artificial intelligence/robot automation to human jobs keeps getting more serious (and being entirely ignored by governments). The latest worrying report comes not from some Luddite think tank but global consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Their conclusion, as reported in Fortune Magazine, is that “Nearly 40% of US jobs could soon be given to robots… Researchers suggested that automated bots could take nearly four in 10 (38%) jobs in the US, and take 30% of jobs in the United Kingdom, 35% in Germany, and 21% in Japan.” (8)
- The sex robots are coming
In a July 5 report on USA Today Network, Mary Bowerman writes of latest developments in sex robots, as manufacturers of “anatomically correct” sex dolls add AI features. Retailing for between $5,000 and $15,000, these robots are programmable in complex ways – to shape certain of their features and to understand user wants. Their dissemination at decreasing cost has wide social implications (for example, there are already reports of a Japanese manufacturer selling child models). This dimension of the digital revolution has been creeping up on us with little public discussion or understanding. Is the future one in which we have sex with robots and reproduce through in vitro fertilisation? (9)
- Cybersecurity . . . or not
Threats to computer security continue to grow. Two new reports show a wide variety of awareness and action around the world – one from a United Nations index to help differentiate countries taking them seriously from others that do not (50% have no formal national strategy in place), and another from IFSEC News. The core problem is that computers and physical equipment are increasingly linked up – “cyber-physical systems” is one term used in the trade. If instead of stealing your credit card details a hacker can bring down your home heating system, or take control of a power grid, the stakes just went up enormously. The “Internet of Things” is about just that: linking things and computers, with potentially enormous benefits in convenience and profitability – and risks just as great. (10)
Trumping the Darkness
The Washington Post’s slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” has (re)defined its mission in terms every reader will associate with the need to challenge the serial dishonesty and “fake news” of the administration and its most committed supporters. The Post is to be commended for its absolute determination to bring the truth to light. Yet there is much more to democracy than politics, and much more to politics than the doings and sayings of the political class.
The irony is plain to see. The Trump administration shows little interest in either science and technology – or indeed the arts – which are all being targeted for big spending cuts; so why play along by making editorial choices that starkly parallel the one-dimensional universe of the White House?
At the heart of Washington’s current tragedy lies the fact that the administration has been able to shape the news-reporting agenda – in disagreement just as in those areas where the press has been supportive. Trump’s absolute dominance of the media focus is the one area where supporters and critics alike are continuing to work together.
We quoted at the start Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times: “Coverage of Mr Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever.” It’s also eclipsed these five vitally important stories – vital, not least, to the greatness of America.