Reporting on the Future, Now

In labs across the world, scientists are developing the power of quantum mechanics, a field of physics that behaves unlike anything we experience in our everyday lives. In 2019, Google announced that its quantum computer had achieved “quantum supremacy,” which could allow new kinds of computers to perform calculations at what were once unimaginable speeds. Other companies and research labs are exploring techniques like quantum teleportation, which sends data between locations without moving the matter that holds it – a concept that Albert Einstein had deemed impossible.

The seemingly impossible, though, is what Cade Metz’s reporting hinges on. As a Times correspondent who covers emerging technologies, he has written about quantum teleportation; cars that drive themselves; immersive digital worlds; and artistry in artificial intelligence. If a technology is futuristic or disruptive, Mr. Metz most probably knows about it.

In an interview, Mr. Metz talked about advances in technology and the challenges in translating complicated subjects for everyday readers. This interview has been edited.

What is your background in technology reporting?

Before coming to The Times, I was with Wired, where I was trying to identify technologies that were coming out of research labs and changing in ways that were likely to have an impact on our daily lives.

I was an English major in college, and I always wanted to be a writer and a reporter, but my father was an engineer. I’ve always been interested in writing about engineers and researchers who I feel like, even within technology coverage, can get short shrift – meaning, when people write stories and books about the tech industry, they write about entrepreneurs; they write about the heads of companies. They don’t necessarily write about the people actually building the stuff. Like anybody else, they’re fascinating people in their own right, so that’s what I’ve always gravitated to.

How do you write about such complicated subjects for the average reader?

You have to make an effort to show people that this type of thing is still in the future. Just by writing about it, you give the impression that it’s imminent, and that can be a danger. It’s the same thing when I cover artificial intelligence; just using that term implies things. When we hear those words, it brings up certain images – decades of science fiction movies and science fiction novels.

When you write about quantum computing, in particular, you have to use analogy. This is behavior that we don’t experience in our everyday lives, and that makes it fascinating. The quantum supremacy story got a lot of attention; it sort of captures the imagination. But it is very hard to find that sweet spot where you’re properly representing the technology and doing so in a way that people can grasp it.

I think the key challenge is not to give people the wrong impression, and not making this seem closer than it is. Particularly with this type of technology, you want to be judicious.

When did quantum teleportation become something you wanted to report on?

I’ve written about other types of quantum technology. The trick is figuring out the right time to write about it again. You look for certain milestones that indicate progress will continue. The quantum supremacy movement is definitely one of those. I had targeted that for years. Quantum supremacy moments show that you can do something with a quantum machine that you couldn’t do with a traditional machine.

What is most useful, and I think this is true of all sorts of technologies, is talking to a lot of people about each particular aspect ..

These are academics, government researchers. There are people all over the world. You talk to these researchers here, in the Netherlands. There’s a lot of work in China. I spent time talking to a lot of people in all those places.

What excites you most about the beat?

When you get to write not only about the technology but also about the people building it and what it means for them. Those are the stories I’m most satisfied with. That’s ultimately what I wanted to do, dating back to watching my father and his career – realizing the significance of intersections of the technology with the people.

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