The Government Wants To Share Your Health Data. That’s Not A Terrible Idea.

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The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) want to give you more access to your healthcare data. And they want to help third party companies get at it, too, according to an announcement earlier this month and a recent article from Stat News.

That might sound scary, especially since you’ve been hearing a lot about your data lately, in part thanks to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Especially because it’s your medical data, and what could be more personal than that?

But it’s actually not that bad an idea.

First, a little background. In your lifetime you’ve created a tremendously detailed cache of healthcare data. Checkups, dental procedures, medications, that one ER visit in college… all of this information is about your body and could be used to create a picture of your overall health.

There’s a catch: that data is stored in four different systems. And they don’t automatically share data with one another — your dentist’s office won’t send your records to your doctor’s office unless you ask. Lacking access to complete records increases the risk of unnecessary treatments and medical error.

In CMS’s vision, all that data would be available in a central location patients can access anywhere, anytime. The program, called MyHealthEData, would give care providers all that information so they could offer patients the best possible treatment, especially in emergencies.

The program goes one step further  it wants to hand this history over to third party companies as well. That could include medical researchers, health app creators, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Sharing it could further medical research by providing scientists with data that is otherwise hard to access, leading to treatments that are more effective and better tailored to individual patients.

There are risks, of course. So much valuable data in one place is basically a bull’s eye for hackers. Government infrastructure has been the target of such attacks before, and they are likely to increase in the future.

One thing you at least don’t need to worry about? CMS intentionally sharing your data without your knowledge. Thanks, HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) established a national standard of health data protection and security measures which ensure your records can’t be shared without your consent)!

The ultimate result may be a healthcare ecosystem in which medical professionals, your devices, and patients themselves are better connected. A physician who can see data from a patient’s smartwatch, for example, might be better able to see the signs of a heart attack before it happens.

That kind of system is still a ways off. But to get there, we’ll need to pay close attention to who has access to all our medical records, and especially how those records can be protected. If we do it right, our lives will be the better for it. And if we don’t, well, hackers will auction off our medical data to the highest bidder. The stakes are pretty high.

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Guess What, Rich People: Meteor Showers on Demand Are a Terrible Idea

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To glimpse a meteor shower, sometimes you’ve got to wake up in the middle of the night, bundle up against frigid cold, and wait many minutes or hours. All to see a streak of light, a piece of space that crosses briefly into our world.

Soon, though, all you may need is enough cash.

A Japanese “space entertainment firm” called Astro Live Experiences (ALE) says it will launch its first satellite in 2019 to create artificial meteor showers on demand, for large events or at the whim of the wealthiest among us. Though ALE hasn’t named a specific price per event, BuzzFeed News suggests each ALE meteor shower will likely cost several million dollars.

According to CNN, ALE “meteors” will be small metallic pellets made of a proprietary composition that glows orange, blue, or green as they burn up in the atmosphere. Yet unlike ordinary meteors, which are usually around the size of a sand grain, ALE’s fake shooting stars will be substantially bigger — around two centimeters in diameter (smaller than a ping-pong ball, but slightly larger than a marble) — and released in a cloud.

Experts have raised concerns that this could threaten low-orbiting spacecraft.

“I salute them for cleverness and for their technical expertise, but from an orbital debris standpoint, it’s not a great idea,” University of Michigan astronomer Patrick Seitzer told BuzzFeed.

Moving at high speeds brought on by Earth’s gravity, a 2 centimeter-wide object is more than enough to shoot right through a metal spacecraft — and leave devastation in its wake.

ALE seems to be taking steps to ensure this would be an unlikely event. ALE’s satellite would likely orbit just below the International Space Station to avoid collisions; any pellet that ALE’s satellite releases will go from an altitude of 220 miles (354 km) to about 37 miles (59.5 km) above the surface before burning up. Rodenbaugh told BuzzFeed that only 40 other satellites orbit below 220 miles, and that the company would call off any event that would put their artificial meteors close to a tracked satellite.

Yet fake meteor showers could still impact spy satellites, which are not tracked and can dip as low as 158 miles; and low-earth orbit is slated to become a lot busier in the coming years, Seitzer mentioned to Buzzfeed,.

There are plans to ensure that, yes, low-earth orbit (that is, anything under 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from the Earth’s surface) will be a lot more crowded. SpaceX and other companies plan to send up a number of satellites to establish satellite-based internet services; SpaceX alone plans to put over 4,000 of them between 700 and 900 miles (1,100 and 1,400 kilometers). There are also the high-speed rockets and space planes that companies plan to fill with tourists, and low-altitude spacecraft that the military wants to use to deliver yet more satellites. Add thousands of falling metal pellets to the 500,000 pieces of man-made debris we already know circle our planet, and the risk for any of these spacecraft becomes significantly higher.

Call us purists, but artificially creating shooting stars overlooks what makes meteor showers so incredible in the first place: that you never know exactly when you’re going to see them. Paying for a manufactured one doesn’t exactly have the same thrill. (May we humbly suggest you instead use your considerable wealth to address the problem of light pollution so that more people could see natural shooting stars.) Creating a space hazard simply to provide a cheap imitation of a natural wonder seems to be missing the point.

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HTC had a terrible holiday quarter

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Smartphone and VR headset maker HTC has published its consolidated results for Q4 2017 — and it makes for grim reading.

The topline figures are:

  • Flat quarterly revenue of NT$ 15.7 billion (~$ 540M) with gross margin of -30.8%
  • Quarterly operating loss of NT$ 9.6 billion (~$ 330M) with operating margin of -60.8%
  • Quarterly net loss after tax: NT$ 9.8 billion (~$ 337M), or -NT$ 11.93 (-$ 0.41) per share

HTC says this latest quarterly loss was due to “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs”. So pretty much a full house of operational and business problems.

The one bright spot for HTC’s business is a deal worth $ 1.1BN, in which Google acquired a chunk of HTC’s hardware business — which was completed at the end of January.

That one-off cash injection is not reflected in the Q4 results but will rather give some passing uplift to HTC’s Q1 2018 results.

HTC says it will be using the Google windfall for “greater investment in emerging technologies”, writing that they will be “vital across all of our businesses and present significant long-term growth opportunities”.

There’s no doubt that any business revival would require hefty investment. But exactly what long-term growth opportunities HTC believes it can capture is questionable, given how fiercely competitive the smartphone market continues to be (with Chinese OEMs making what running there is in a shrinking global market); and how the VR market — which HTC bet big on in 2015, with Vive and Valve, to try to diversify beyond mobile — has hardly turned out to be the next major computing paradigm. Not yet anyway.

So the emphasis really is on the “long-term” earning potential of VR — say five or even ten years hence.

HTC flags the launch of its VIVE Focus standalone VR system in China — which it last week said it would also be bringing to the UK and other global markets later this year — and the launch of a VIVE Pro premium PC VR system in January, which it was showing off at CES, as examples of focused product innovation in the VR space.

Following a strategic business review aimed at optimizing its teams and processes — both for smartphones and VR — it also says it now has “a series of measures in place to enable stronger execution”, and is touting fresh innovations coming across its markets this year.

But HTC is going to need a whole lot more than squeezable gimmicks and shiny finishes to lift out of these doldrums.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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Skagen Falster review: A very sleek Wear OS watch let down by terrible hardware decisions

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Over the last year, we’ve seen a tangible shift in Android Wear’s — now Wear OS — direction. Previously geared toward the demanding techie crowd that was tough to win over, Google’s smartwatch platform found a sort of reprieve in more niche markets. We’ve seen Wear watches made for extreme sports, outdoors, running, and a slew of fashion-forward models from recognized brands like Michael Kors, Diesel, GUESS, Fossil, Kate Spade, Emporio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, and more.

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Skagen Falster review: A very sleek Wear OS watch let down by terrible hardware decisions was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Instagram will improve its terrible feed by showing newer posts at the top

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Instagram made the switch to a non-chronological feed a while back, and many users are still unhappy with it. Today, Instagram says it’s rolling out some changes to make the feed less terrible. Well, Instagram didn’t call the feed “terrible,” but that seems to be the consensus outside the company. Soon, you’ll see newer posts near the top and have more control over refreshing.

According to the new blog post, Instagram is testing a “New Posts” button in the feed.

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Instagram will improve its terrible feed by showing newer posts at the top was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Infinity War’s Thanos proves CGI supervillains are a terrible idea

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The final Infinity War trailer presents a terrifying, monumental threat to earth. Armies clash. Dead bodies are strewn about the screen. Music blares. Impressive percussion stirs up emotions. Lightning cracks. And at the center of it all is… Thanos! The terrifying universe-destroyer! Who, unfortunately, looks like a bald purple plastic mannequin with weird grooves in his chin to make up for the fact that he can’t grow a beard.

There’s no kind way to put it: Thanos isn’t impressive; he’s ridiculous. A villain named after death should look frightening, maybe with some sort of visual reference to death. Instead, Thanos comes across as an over-inflated cousin of Grimace from McDonald’s marketing. Except Grimace is actually kind of scary.

W…

Continue reading…

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New alliance wants to improve terrible in-flight internet

The frustrations of internet access aboard commercial aircraft may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the Seamless Air Alliance. Formed by Airbus, Delta, OneWeb, Sprint and Airtel, the group aims to improve the connectivity experience for passeng…
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‘Black Panther’ is amazing. Why are its CG models so terrible?

Black Panther is a refreshing answer to the increasingly stale world of superhero cinema. But there's one glaring flaw throughout the film: its use of CG models to replace humans during action sequences. They're weightless, ugly and, worst of all, in…
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Dystopian Robot Tailor Makes Terrible Shirts

A Tailored Task

Machine learning and artificial intelligence have been used for several exciting tasks in recent years, including helping fight against mental illness, discovering new exoplanets, and teaching AI systems new languages.

There’s one task that AI hasn’t mastered: making clothing. It probably seems a little mundane compared to exploring the universe, but for most of us, finding a good shirt is more useful than finding a new planet.

A California-based clothing company has been trying to help AI make the move from the fabric of the cosmos to just…well, fabric. Original Stitch lets users create their own button-up dress shirts. The company once tested a service that claimed to be able to make accurately-sized dress shirts using nothing more than a photo of a similar shirt for reference.

Considering that many of us buy clothes online simply hoping they’ll fit, the concept was a savvy one. Even if we get the shirt and it doesn’t fit, how many of us would admit that we ended up just keeping the shirt, rather than trying to wrangle what was required to ship it back?

Original Stitch's shirt design page. Image Credit: Original Stitch
Original Stitch’s shirt design page. Image Credit: Original Stitch

While it sounded good in theory, as Bloomberg’s Pavel Alpeyev and Jason Clenfield found out, Original Stitch’s ambitious goal to use AI to make shirts ultimately wasn’t up to the task. According to the pair, the first shirt they ordered was “too tight around the chest and too long in the sleeves.” The second (presumably made with the aid of a higher quality photo of the desired shirt) had similar issues. The third attempt couldn’t be buttoned up at all. Given it’s true that some people do wear shirts unbuttoned — but if you bought a shirt expecting to button it up, its inability to do so is understandably disappointing.

A Stitch in Time

Perhaps unsurprisingly, once it was established that the service wasn’t succeeding, it was taken down. As of December when the company shuttered the service, Original Stitch founder Jin Koh told Alpeyev and Clenfield that the service is obviously “still in beta.”

Koh is currently working on an improved version of the computer-vision software behind the service, which could be released later this year. Instead of using one photo, the updated version will require three: one of the desired shirt, another of the wearer’s chest, and the third photo of the wearer’s chest from the back.

For the user, it’s a little more work than the first iteration of the service (imagine asking a friend to take a picture of your back). If it works, having the ability to buy tailored clothes online would likely be appealing — especially if it eliminates the need for going to the store and trying on clothes in the dressing room, for those who dislike doing so.

We’ve known for a while that automation is expected to impact many industries in the years to come, but who could’ve ever guessed tailors would be at risk of being replaced by robots?

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Crappy Valentine’s Day, Robots: AI Is Terrible at (Human) Seduction

Ah, yes, the 14th Day of February, on which you’re maybe anticipating some sweet words from that special someone, or feeling forever alone, or just went and rejected the Hallmark holiday altogether. No matter your feelings about the holiday, we’ve found you a Valentine for the day to tell you the sweet nothings no one else will:

YAK O WAY.”

Mmm, sultry. Now imagine it carved into one of those candy hearts. Boom, right? Except not.

That probably (hopefully?) isn’t quite up to your standard for heart-meltingly hot. And that’s probably because it was written by an AI, which, it turns out, hasn’t quite mastered the art of (human) seduction.

A woman named Janelle Shane created the candy-heart-generating AI. By day, Shane is a laser scientist, but her hobby is to train neural networks. And she purposely trains them to do silly things, and to be, well, kind of bad at them. Her previous neural networks have invented names for new residents of the Star Wars universe and for paint colors. One even wrote Harry Potter fan fiction.

To create her candy heart AI, Shane collected as many genuine candy heart messages as she could find and fed them into a neural network. The algorithm detected patterns in the data and then used those patterns to create messages that imitated the genuine ones.

Granted, the system’s far from perfect. But it does give us a little perspective on just how strange we are as we try to woo one another.

“I would say that [watching them go off the rails] is one of the greatest pleasures of training neural networks. It may be frustrating at times, if you’re trying to get something done. But I love it when things like that happen,” Shane said in an interview with Slate. “It is satisfying in the sense that you’re seeing computers aren’t good at everything yet.”

Yes, the neural network came up with a couple of messages that are almost cute in the right light. The simplicity of “MY MY” has an old-timey charm, and “YOU ARE IT” hits some of the right notes.

Other attempts stray from the affectionate into the simply strange.

A few messages channel the opening of a disappointing Tinder exchange, such as “HOW U HOT” or “YOU ARE BABE” or the more straightforward “HOLE.” From there, they range from the perplexing — “LET’S RIND” and “LOVE 2000 HOGS YEA” — to the possibly derogatory: “MY HAG” and “YOU RANK.”

Would-be lovers might find themselves mired in rage over romance, or, if you’re nasty like that, not nearly hot enough. To that end, if the AI hasn’t spat out a candy heart message to your liking, there are more to choose from; you can request access to those that include four-letter words that aren’t spelled L-O-V-E.

If there’s one thing this experiment shows, it’s that robots still can’t do everything we can. The writers currently employed to compose messages for candy hearts can consider their jobs automation-proof, at least for now—or until the next generation of young people actually find some success with “HOW U HOT.” Which, come to think of it, is only just a few letters shy of “U UP?”

Honestly? Yeah. They should probably be worried.

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