Aledade: A Silicon Valley ‘Healthcare’ Solution

Farhad Manjoo: “The American health care system is a fragmented archipelago, with patients moving through doctors’ offices and hospitals that are often disconnected from one another. As a result, many primary care physicians — who often see themselves as a kind of quarterback who calls the shots on a patient’s care — have no easy way to monitor a patient’s meandering path through the health care system.”

Software developed by Aledade, a Silicon Valley startup, “addresses that by collecting patient data from a variety of sources, creating a helicopter view. Doctors can see which specialists a patient has visited, which tests have been ordered, and, crucially, how much the overall care might be costing the health care system … More important, the software uses the data to assemble a battery of daily checklists for physicians’ practices. These are a set of easy steps for the practice to take — call this patient, order this vaccine — to keep on top of patients’ care, and, in time, to reduce its cost.”

“Yet even though Aledade thinks of itself as a technology company, its doctors said its software is the least interesting thing it does … Aledade — which now operates in 15 states and has relationships with more than 1,200 doctors … It has hired a battalion of field coordinators who visit practices and offer in-depth training and advice.”

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Ambient Computing: Invisible & Omnipresent

Steve Vassallo: “Slack and Airbnb—like Pinterest, Instagram and Kickstarter—are recent successes founded by designers, people who are devoted to the practice of building impeccably considerate technology. Design is the key to building the next great wave of companies.”

“I think we’re entering the age of ‘ambient computing,’ when personal technology will become invisible and omnipresent. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, the Internet of Things, and other nascent tech will fade into the background of our lives. Technology will no longer come in the form of gadgets.”

“In this new era, design will be ever more critical to how we build and use our technology. The 21st century will be the century of the designer founder, when core value for businesses is created by entrepreneurs who have a deeper, more intuitive sense for the human condition.”

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Impossible Burgers: Food is not an App

The New York Times: “One of the chief selling points of the Impossible Burger, a much ballyhooed plant-based burger patty, is its resemblance to meat, right down to the taste and beeflike ‘blood’ …. Now, its secret sauce — soy leghemoglobin, a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants that the company makes in its laboratory — has raised regulatory questions. Impossible Foods wants the Food and Drug Administration to confirm that the ingredient is safe to eat. But the agency has expressed concern that it has never been consumed by humans and may be an allergen.”

“Impossible Foods can still sell its burger despite the F.D.A. findings, which did not conclude that soy leghemoglobin was unsafe. The company plans to resubmit its petition to the agency.” Rachel Konrad, a spokeswoman for Impossible Foods, states: “The Impossible Burger is safe. A key ingredient of the Impossible Burger — heme — is an ancient molecule found in every living organism.”

“Impossible Foods is finding out what happens when a fast-moving venture capital business runs headlong into the staid world of government regulation. Investors like Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures have poured money into a variety of so-called alt meat companies. Silicon Valley has noble goals, applying technological solutions to address major issues like climate change, farm animal welfare and food security. But food is not an app. It is far more heavily regulated by governments and much more heavily freighted with cultural and emotional baggage.”

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Amazon’s Buzz: A Drone Beehive?

Business Insider: “Amazon is heavily investing in drones, and one day hopes to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to revolutionise deliveries. Right now, it’s all still early stages — but public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon’s engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech. For example, a key problem facing any drone deliveries is batteries and maintenance. When your drones are in the shop getting fixed, they’re not helping you make any money — so how do you keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible?”

“Amazon is exploring the idea of building special facilities that can store, repair, and deploy drones, and pre-emptively moving products and drones to areas of anticipated demand (based on seasonal trends, say, or a special event in the area) before launching them … the patent — and others like it — offers us a window into the kind of problems Amazon’s employees are grappling with, and how they might ultimately hope to solve them.”

“For example, Amazon has previously filed for a patent for a beehive-like tower for storing its fleets of drones — or as it calls it, a ‘multi-level fulfillment center for unmanned aerial vehicles’ … Amazon is also thinking about using its drones to scan your house while carrying out deliveries in order to try and sell you more stuff. If it spots one of your trees is dying, it might recommend some fertiliser to you with an advert on its website, for example.”

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Surprise #2: Microsoft is Leading PC Innovation

Farhad Manjoo: Microsoft “is making the most visionary computers in the industry, if not the best machines, period. In the last two years, while Apple has focused mainly on mobile devices, Microsoft has put out a series of computers that reimagine the future of PCs in thrilling ways … perhaps because it’s way behind Apple, Microsoft’s hardware division is creating products more daring than much of what has been coming out of its rival lately.”

“Under Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Surface chief, the company has given its designers and engineers license to rethink the future of PCs in grand ways — to sit in an empty room, dream big things, and turn those visions into reality … The mind-set has resulted in several shining ideas. For Surface Studio, Microsoft built a brilliant companion device called Surface Dial — a palm-size knob that sits on your drafting-table screen, creating a tactile interface with which to control your computer.”

You can use Dial for basic things like turning up the volume. But in the hands of a designer, it becomes a lovely tool; you can scrub through edits in a video or change your pen color in Photoshop with a turn of the wheel … Dial is one of those interface breakthroughs that we might have once looked to Apple for. Now, it’s Microsoft that’s pushing new modes of computing … it’s unlikely that Microsoft’s PC hardware business will beat Apple’s anytime soon. But anyone who cares about the future of the PC should be thrilled that Apple now faces a serious and creative competitor.”

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Disney Machine-Learns for Laughs

Quartz: Disney “is using machine learning to assess the audience’s reactions to films based on their facial expressions, it wrote in a new research paper. It uses something called factorized variational auto-encoders, or FVAEs, to predict how a viewer will react to the rest of a film after tracking their facial expressions for a few minutes.”

“The FVAEs learn a set of facial expressions, such as smiles and laughter, from the audience, and then make correlations between audience members to see if a movie is getting laughs or other reactions when it should be—a much more sophisticated version of how Amazon and Netflix make suggestions for new things to buy or watch based on your shopping or viewing history.”

“By placing four infrared cameras and infrared illuminators above a theater screen, the researchers were able to identify 16 million facial landmarks, or expressions, from more than 3,100 theatergoers during 150 screenings of nine Disney movies … the data was then analyzed with a computer. (Before this gets too creepy, Disney isn’t tracking your every move at your local theater. The experiment took place during screenings at one particular 400-seat theater. And audiences likely had to choose to participate.)”

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Web Design: ’90s Style Returns

The New York Times: “Web designs have come a long way in 20 years, but some are taking a step back to evoke a sort of hipster nostalgia for the early days of the internet … Some websites are purposely cumbersome to navigate, with loud, clip-art-filled pages. Others employ a simplistic Craigslist-style utilitarianism that feels like a throwback to an era when web pages were coded by hand.”

“While millennials and members of Generation Z — those born in the years from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s — may not remember what the web looked like in the era of AltaVista and GeoCities, the retro designs tap into the current cultural revival of all things ’90s … For those who are older, these sites recall the improvised internet of their youth, in the days before mobile optimization and beta-tested user interfaces brought a sleek uniformity to modern web design.”

For example, check out: Salazarla. Or: Everything Now. And then: Solange.

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Technology Cannot Hug a Customer

The New York Times: “Technology, some hotels are finding, has its limits. ‘Technology cannot hug a repeat guest,’ said George Aquino, the vice president and managing director of AHC+Hospitality … That is the reason his company, which manages several hotels, has been running a training program for some of its managers and other staff members to improve their hospitality skills, connect with local business leaders and learn more about local tourist offerings.”

“Similar programs are sprouting in other cities, involving not just hotels but also restaurants and even cities themselves, which see the personal touch as giving them a competitive edge. For business travelers, in particular, talking to someone knowledgeable about a city can lead to a good restaurant. And it can also help expand business leads.”

“A consulting program based in Tucson, Certified Tourism Ambassadors, trains hospitality workers. Mickey Schaefer, the chief executive and founder, said she had developed the idea in 2006 while working for the American Academy of Family Physicians to plan its conventions. Hospitality workers sometimes did not know their own cities, leading to bad experiences, she said … The program, she said, ‘is more than just helping the customer. It is helping them find the richness of whatever they are interested in.’ She added that the program also instills civic pride.”

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Is Ecom a Jobs Engine?

The New York Times: Michael Mandel, an economist, “asserts that the move toward e-commerce is creating more jobs than are being lost in the brick-and-mortar retailing industry — and that these new jobs are paying much higher wages than traditional retail jobs … He says that government numbers and conventional industry classifications don’t properly count all the jobs associated with e-commerce — in particular, the numbers miss large parts of the industry like fulfillment centers and distribution warehouses.”

“Mr. Mandel has combed through the job statistics on a county-by-county basis and come to this counterintuitive view: From December 2007 to May 2017, by his count, the e-commerce industry has created 397,000 jobs in the United States, and this compares with the loss of 76,000 jobs in the traditional retail industry. And those jobs related to e-commerce, he says, pay about 30 percent more than the brick-and-mortar ones.”

“To Mr. Mandel, it’s not that e-commerce jobs are directly replacing traditional retail jobs. Rather, he describes a world in which some of what he calls ‘unpaid household labor’ that we all do when we drive to the mall, park, shop and bring the goods home has been transferred into the labor market.” As for automation and robots, he thinks “it will take longer for them to replace humans than we think.”

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Deep Thinking: ‘Artificial’ Trumps ‘Intelligence’

LARB: From a review of Deep Thinking, by Garry Kasparov, the chess champion defeated by Deep Blue, a machine, in 1997: “The history of computer chess is the history of artificial intelligence. After their disappointments in trying to reverse-engineer the brain, computer scientists narrowed their sights. Abandoning their pursuit of human-like intelligence, they began to concentrate on accomplishing sophisticated, but limited, analytical tasks by capitalizing on the inhuman speed of the modern computer’s calculations.”

“This less ambitious but more pragmatic approach has paid off in areas ranging from medical diagnosis to self-driving cars. Computers are replicating the results of human thought without replicating thought itself. If in the 1950s and 1960s the emphasis in the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ fell heavily on the word ‘intelligence,’ today it falls with even greater weight on the word ‘artificial’ … If a machine can search billions of options in a matter of milliseconds, ranking each according to how well it fulfills some specified goal, then it can outperform experts in a lot of problem-solving tasks without having to match their experience or insight.”

Also: “A bit of all-too-human deviousness was also involved in Deep Blue’s win. IBM’s coders, it was later revealed, programmed the computer to display erratic behavior — delaying certain moves, for instance, and rushing others — in an attempt to unsettle Kasparov. Computers may be innocents, but that doesn’t mean their programmers are.”

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