June 30 marks Asteroid Day, a U.N.-sanctioned campaign to promote awareness around the world of what’s up in the sky. In Milan, scientists are assembling a new telescope that uses “insect vision” to spot risky celestial objects. Faith Lapidus explains.
Hailing “great economic success” during the first 18 months of his administration, U.S. President Donald Trump is calling for more companies to be like Taiwan’s electronics component manufacturer Foxconn and invest in the United States.
At a groundbreaking event for the foreign company’s latest and largest investment in the upper Midwestern state of Wisconsin, Trump described the planned $10 billion manufacturing facility “as the eighth wonder of the world.”
That may be a generous exaggeration, but the plant is one of the largest foreign direct investment projects ever in the United States.
“We are demanding from foreign countries, friend and foe, fair and reciprocal trade,” Trump said, as he defended his confrontational trade policies and hailed further direct investment in the United States by manufacturers from other countries.
Trump hailed Foxconn’s decision to increase its investment in Wisconsin, while criticizing a plan by an iconic American company in the same state to move some production overseas in response to retaliatory tariffs planned by European companies in response to the president’s punitive import taxes.
“Harley-Davidson, please build those beautiful motorcycles in the USA,” Trump said. “Don’t get cute with us.”
The president added: “Your customers won’t be happy if you don’t.”
Trump defended tariffs he has imposed on foreign steel and aluminum, proclaiming that “business is through the roof” in the United States as a result.
The primary focus of Trump’s remarks on Thursday was Foxconn’s decision to build flat-screen, liquid crystal display panels in Racine County, Wisconsin.
The maker of components for and assembler of Apple iPhones was offered what is described as the largest financial incentive ever for a foreign company by a U.S. state.
Wisconsin is giving Foxconn $3 billion in tax credits and other incentives. In exchange, the state expects to see the facility create thousands of jobs.
Trump spoke in front of a giant video display that said “USA Open for Business” after touring an existing Foxconn facility at the Wisconsin Valley Science and Technology Park.
Foxconn’s founder and chairman Terry Gou told the audience that during each of his several previous meetings with the president, Trump always emphasized “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Added Gou, “He truly cares about improving the lives of the American people.”
The new plant, which will take two years to build and employ 10,000 construction workers, will include a 1.8 million square meter campus situated on 1,200 hectares. Foxconn has promised that the LCD facility will eventually employ up to 13,000 people.
Not everyone in the state is overjoyed about what is being billed as a transformational project for Wisconsin’s economy, better known for dairy products than high technology.
The state’s legislative bureau predicts it will be a quarter of a century before Wisconsin receives enough tax revenue to match its initial investment. And others are raising concern about its environmental impact.
“Building the Foxconn factory complex on prime farmland in rural Wisconsin constitutes a textbook example of unsustainable development,” said David Petering, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Petering told VOA News the facility will be a “major source of a variety of harmful air pollutants that will put nearby residents at risk and contribute to climate change. In addition, it will need to break the Great Lakes Compact law to get millions of gallons of water from Lake Michigan.”
Melting glaciers and rising seas in Greenland; raging fires in Northern California; a relentless drought in Somalia and the disappearing Amazon forests. Famine, Feast, Fire and Ice are the four installments in a virtual reality (VR) documentary on climate change by filmmakers Eric Strauss and Danfung Dennis.
The series, showcased at AFI Docs, the American Film Institute’s Documentary festival in Washington, D.C., offers a 360-degree view of destructive phenomena brought by climate change on our planet. It immerses viewers into the extremes of Earth’s changing climate.
Eric Strauss told VOA he hopes that when someone watches the series as it drives home this idea that there is no hiding from global warming. “This is coming for all of us, regardless of where we live or what our income is; it’s going to affect everyone.”
Ken Jacobson, AFI’s Virtual Reality Programmer, says viewers – who watch the film wearing virtual reality headsets – react in many different ways to this all immersive experience.
“Some people have a very visceral reaction where they jump, where they kind of yelp because they are very surprised by what they see, while other people, I think, are very reflective and can even be sad, depending on the content,” he said.
One of these viewers is James Willard, a film and TV production student at George Mason University. He describes his experience of watching the installment Feast, about the deforestation of the Amazon rainforests to make space for industrial-sized cattle ranches to satisfy the global appetite for beef.
“You are completely immersed in this whole situation,” he says, “You are facing these animals eye-to-eye and watching as they are marching towards their death.”
The film needs no dialogue. A few sentences set up the topic. “It is actually stripping away a lot of the information, putting you in environments that you then experience for yourself,” says Eric Strauss, “You are much more of a protagonist in some way in this type of stories than you would be in a traditional form of cinema.”
Another viewer, Patricia, has just watched Famine, the episode that looks at the extreme drought in Somalia. “It makes it even more powerful because you feel like you are there. I think, it’s a great medium to spread the word on critical subjects,” she says.
That’s what Strauss wants to hear. “That is the goal; to effect change, to effect positive change.”
VR films are becoming more accessible as the technology evolves, and are often viewed on smart phone applications. But VR Programmer Ken Jacobson says watching them through a virtual reality headset is the best way to experience them.
But can VR films ever replace traditional 2D or even 3D films?
“I think it is going to add another aspect on how we are going to watch movies,” says student James Willard. “Virtual reality can be very dangerous because you are completely immersing yourself within the story to the point where you don’t see anything else. At least in the movie theater you are fully aware that this is a screen in front of you, but if you look to your sides you don’t have another screen there completely immersing you within that story. And with virtual reality that’s exactly what it does. For some people, it will be okay to take off the goggles and go on with their lives, but for others it may be too much. I don’t think it will completely take over.”
Eric Strauss agrees that VR will not overtake traditional cinema, but he says virtual reality can allow viewers to relate deeply with socially conscious stories.
“The technology creates a situation where you truly feel transported to that location because you are not just witnessing something or watching it on a screen. You are occupying the space. And that creates an emotional connection where you can’t really turn away. I mean, there is no getting away from what you’ve allowed yourself to be teleported to and hopefully that will create a visceral, emotional response in viewers and what they are seeing will prompt them to want to get involved.”your ad here
Your Amazon packages, which usually show up in a UPS truck, an unmarked vehicle or in the hands of a mail carrier, may soon be delivered from an Amazon van.
The online retailer has been looking for a while to find a way to have more control over how its packages are delivered. With its new program rolling out Thursday, contractors around the country can launch businesses that deliver Amazon packages. The move gives Amazon more ways to ship its packages to shoppers without having to rely on UPS, FedEx and other package delivery services.
With these vans on the road, Amazon said more shoppers would be able to track their packages on a map, contact the driver or change where a package is left — all of which it can’t do if the package is in the back of a UPS or FedEx truck.
Amazon has beefed up its delivery network in other ways: It has a fleet of cargo planes it calls “Prime Air,” announced last year that it was building an air cargo hub in Kentucky and pays people as much as $25 an hour to deliver packages with their cars through Amazon Flex.
Recently, the company has come under fire from President Donald Trump who tweeted that Amazon should pay the U.S. Postal Service more for shipping its packages. Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said the new program is not a response to Trump, but a way to make sure that the company can deliver its growing number of orders. “This is really about meeting growth for our future,” Clark said.
Through the program , Amazon said it can cost as little as $10,000 for someone to start the delivery business. Contractors that participate in the program will be able to lease blue vans with the Amazon logo stamped on it, buy Amazon uniforms for drivers and get support from Amazon to grow their business.
Contractors don’t have to lease the vans, but if they do, those vehicles can only be used to deliver Amazon packages, the company said. The contractor will be responsible for hiring delivery people, and Amazon would be the customer, paying the business to pick up packages from its 75 U.S. delivery centers and dropping them off at shoppers’ doorsteps. An Amazon representative declined to give details on how much it will pay for the deliveries.
Olaoluwa Abimbola, who was part of Amazon’s test of the program, said that the amount of packages Amazon needs delivered keeps his business busy. He’s hired 40 workers in five months.
“We don’t have to go make sales speeches,” Abimbola said. “There’s constant work, every day. All we have to do is show up.”
U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing Congress to approve legislation that would give the government new ways to review foreign technology investments in the United States to guard against national security threats.
Trump had at first called for imposing limits on Chinese investments in U.S. technology companies and high-tech exports to China, but shifted to urging lawmakers to enhance an existing review process.
He said Wednesday the revamped reviews would give the government the “ability to protect the United States from new and evolving threats posed by foreign investment while also sustaining the strong, open investment environment to which our country is committed and which benefits our economy and our people.”
He said the legislation would give the government “additional tools to combat the predatory investment practices that threaten our critical technology leadership, national security, and future economic prosperity.”
Trump said that if Congress fails to pass the legislation he would use “existing authorities” to conduct global reviews of security threats in technology transactions.
As gigabytes of data flow from field to fingertips, click by click, the technological divide has been closing between teams at the World Cup.
While the focus has been on the debut of video assistant referees, less obvious technical advances have been at work in Russia and the coaches have control over this area, at least.
No longer are the flashiest gizmos to trace player movements and gather data the preserve of the best-resourced nations. All World Cup finalists have had an array of electronic performance and tracking systems made available to them by FIFA.
“We pay great attention to these tools,” Poland coach Adam Nawalka said. “Statistics play an important role for us. We analyze our strength and weaknesses.”
The enhanced tech at the teams’ disposal came after football’s law-making body — on the same day in March it approved VAR — approved the use of hand-held electronic and communications equipment in the technical area for tactical and coaching purposes. That allows live conversations between the coaches on the bench and analysts in the stands, a change from the 2014 World Cup when the information gathered from player and ball tracking systems couldn’t be transmitted in real-time from the tribune.
“It’s the first time that they can communicate during the match,” FIFA head of technology Johannes Holzmueller told The Associated Press. “We provide the basic and most important metrics to the teams to be analyzed at the analysis desk. There they have the opportunity either to use the equipment provided by FIFA or that they use their own.”
The KPI — key performance indicators — fed by tracking cameras and satellites provide another perspective when coaches make judgments on substitutions or tactical switches if gaps exposed on the field are identified.
“These tools are very practical, they give us analysis, it’s very positive,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. “They provide us with insight. They complement the tools we already have. It improves our work as coaches, and it will help footballers too. I think technologies are a very positive thing.”
It’s not just about success in games. Player welfare can be enhanced with high-tech tools to assess injuries in real time allowed for use by medics at this World Cup. Footage of incidents can now be evaluated to supplement any on-field diagnosis, particularly concussion cases.
A second medic “can review very clearly, very concretely what happened on the field, what the doctor sitting on the bench perhaps could not see,” FIFA medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe said.
Pekerman is pleased “football is advancing very quickly.” Too quickly, though, for some coaches who are more resistant to the growing role for machines rather than the mind.
“Football is evolving and these tools help us on the tactical and physiological side,” Senegal coach Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “We do look at it with my staff, but it doesn’t really have an impact on my decision making.”
Hernan Dario Gomez, coach of World Cup newcomer Panama, has reviewed the data feeds. But ultimately the team has been eliminated in the group stage after facing superior opponents.
“This is obviously very important information, but not more important than the actual players,” Gomez said. “We think first and foremost about the players and the teamwork that is done.”
The data provided on players by FIFA is still reliant the quality of analysts interpreting it.
“You can have millions of data points, but what are you doing with it?” Holzmueller said. “At the end even if you’re not such a rich country you could have a very, very clever good guy who is the analyst who could get probably more out of it than a country of 20 analysts if they don’t know really how they should read the data and what they should do with it.
“So it’s really up to each team and also up to each coach because we realize that for some coaches they say, ‘Look I have a gut feeling … I don’t need this information.’”
FIFA is happy with that. The governing body’s technical staff — the side often eclipsed by the high-profile members of the ruling-council — will continue to innovate.
But artificial intelligence isn’t taking over. For some time, at least.
“People think now it’s all driven by computers,” Holzmueller said. “We don’t want that at FIFA.”
Barbie, the world’s most iconic doll, is venturing into coding skills in her latest career as a robotics engineer.
The new doll, launched Tuesday, aims to encourage girls as young as seven to learn real coding skills, thanks to a partnership with the kids game-based computing platform Tynker, toymaker Mattel said.
Robotics engineer Barbie, dressed in jeans, a graphic T-shirt and denim jacket and wearing safety glasses, comes with six free Barbie-inspired coding lessons designed to teach logic, problem solving and the building blocks of coding.
The lessons, for example, show girls how to build robots, get them to move at a dance party, or do jumping jacks.
According to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics, 24 percent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) jobs were held by women in 2017.
Barbie has held more than 200 careers in her almost 60-year life, including president, video game developer and astronaut.
Tynker co-founder Krishna Vedati said in a statement that the company’s mission to empower youth worldwide made Barbie an ideal partner “to help us introduce programming to a large number of kids in a fun engaging way.”
Watch Tynker promotional video:
A former top U.S. Defense Department official is questioning the morality of Google’s decision not to renew a partnership with the Pentagon.
“I believe the Google employees have created a moral hazard for themselves,” former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said Tuesday.
Google announced earlier this month that it would not renew its contract for Project Maven, after 13 employees resigned and more than 4,600 employees signed a petition objecting to their work being used for warfare.
Project Maven seeks to use artificial intelligence, or AI, to help detect and identify images captured using drones.
Many of the Google employees who objected to the project cited Google’s principle of ensuring its products are not used to do harm. But Work, who served as deputy defense secretary from 2014 through July 2017, described Google’s thinking as short-sighted. “It might wind up with us taking a shot, but it could easily save lives” he told an audience at the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington.
Work also described Google as hypocritical, given the company’s endeavors with other countries, such as China. “Google has opened an AI [artificial intelligence] center in China,” he said. “Anything that’s going on in the AI center in China is going to the Chinese government and then will ultimately end up in the hands of the Chinese military.”
The Pentagon’s Project Maven was approved under Work’s watch in 2016 had an initial budget of about $70 million. Google officials had told employees the company was earning less than $10 million, though the deal could lead to additional work.
Current military officials have declined to comment on Google’s decision to not renew the contract, explaining the tech giant is not the main contractor.
“It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the relationship between a prime and sub-prime contractor holder,” Pentagon spokeswoman, Maj. Audricia Harris told VOA in an email.
“We value all of our relationships with academic institutions and commercial companies involved with Project Maven,” she added. “Partnering with the best universities and commercial companies in the world will help preserve the United States’ critical lead in artificial intelligence.” VOA has asked Google for a response, but has received no reply.
While declining to comment directly on Google and Project Maven, the executive director of the Defense Innovation Board said the hope is that, eventually, ethical consideration will push tech companies to work with the military.
“AI [artificlal intelligence] done properly is really, really dangerous,” said Josh Marcuse “We want to work with these companies, these engineers.”
“We are going to have to defend these democracies against adversaries or competitors who see the world every differently,” he said at the same conference in Washington as Work. “I don’t want to show up with a dumb weapon on a smart battlefield.”
But experts say questions of ethics and business viability are likely to continue to plague Google and otherbig tech companies who are asked to work with the Pentagon.
“Their customer base is not just the United States,” said Heather Roff with the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge. “Aiding the U.S. defense industry will potentially hinder their economic success or viability in other countries.”
Still, Paul Scharre, a former Defense Department official who worked on emerging technologies, said he was disappointed by Google’s decision.
“There are weapons companies that build weapons – I understand why Google might not want to be part of that,” said Scharre, now with the Center for a New American Security.
“I don’t think Project Maven crosses the line at all,” he added. “It’s clearly not a weapons technology. It’s helping people better understand the battle space. If you are only worried about civilian and collateral damage that’s only good.”
VOA’s Michelle Quinn contributed to this report. Some information from Reuters was used in this report.
Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Two teenagers have come up with a way to try and reduce the suicide rate with a smartphone app. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo sat down with the inventors, who recently received an award in Washington from the community based non-profit Mental Health America.
The human backup driver in an autonomous Uber SUV was streaming the television show “The Voice” on her phone and looking downward just before fatally striking a pedestrian in suburban Phoenix, according to a police report.
The 300-page report released Thursday night by police in Tempe revealed that driver Rafaela Vasquez had been streaming the musical talent show via Hulu in the 43 minutes before the March 18 crash that killed Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a darkened road outside the lines of a crosswalk. The report said the crash, which marks the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, wouldn’t have happened had the driver not been distracted.
Dash camera video shows Vasquez was looking down near her right knee for four or five seconds before the crash. She looked up a half second before striking Herzberg as the Volvo was traveling about 44 miles per hour.
Vasquez told police Herzberg “came out of nowhere” and that she didn’t see her prior to the collision. But officers calculated that had Vasquez been paying attention, she could have reacted 143 feet before impact and brought the SUV to a stop about 42.6 feet before hitting Herzberg.
“This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted,” the report stated.
Tempe police are looking at a vehicular manslaughter charge in the crash, according to a March 19 affidavit filed to get a search warrant for audio, video and data stored in the Uber SUV.
The detective seeking the warrant, identified as J. Barutha, wrote that based on information from the vehicular homicide unit, “it is believed that the crime of vehicular manslaughter has occurred and that evidence of this offense is currently located in a 2017 Grey Volvo XC-90.”
A previously released video of the crash showed Vasquez looking down just before the crash. She had a startled look on her face about the time of the impact.
The National Transportation Safety Board, in a preliminary report issued last month, said the autonomous driving system on Uber’s Volvo XC-90 SUV spotted Herzberg about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled.
The system is disabled while Uber’s cars are under computer control, “to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior,” the NTSB report said. Instead of the system, Uber relies on the human backup driver to intervene, the report stated. But the system is not designed to alert the driver.
Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona the day before the NTSB report was released, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles. The company had suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto while regulators investigated the cause of the crash. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey prohibited Uber from continuing its tests of self-driving cars after Herzberg was run over.
Police initially determined that Vasquez was not impaired after giving her a field test.
Analysis of video taken from the vehicle shows Vasquez looked downward 204 times in the 11.8 miles traveled before the crash. While the SUV was in motion, Vasquez averted her eyes away from the roadway nearly a third of the time, according to the report.
“Sometimes, her face appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down,” the report said. “Her hands are not visible in the frame of the video during these times.”
The office of Cristina Perez Hesano, an attorney for Herzberg’s daughter and husband, declined to comment on the police report. Attorney Pat McGroder, who represents Herzberg’s mother, father and son, didn’t immediately respond to a call late Friday morning seeking comment.
An Uber spokeswoman said in a prepared statement Friday morning that the company is cooperating with investigations while it does an internal safety review. “We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles. We plan to share more on the changes we’ll make to our program soon,” the statement said.
Use of a mobile device while an autonomous vehicle is moving is a fireable offense, and “this is emphasized on an ongoing basis,” the statement said.
After the crash, the ride-hailing company said it did a top-to-bottom safety evaluation, reviewing internal processes and safety culture. Uber also said it brought in former transportation safety board chairman Christopher Hart to advise the company on safety.
Both Vasquez and Uber could still face civil liability in the case, Uber for potentially negligent hiring, training and supervision, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who closely follows autonomous vehicles.
Vasquez could be charged criminally, and if there’s evidence that Uber or its employees acted recklessly, then charges against them are possible, Smith said. But charges against the company are not likely, he added.
“This should not have happened in so many ways and on so many levels,” Smith said. “This report, if true, makes things worse. And obviously it would not look good to a jury.”
Uber settled quickly with some of Herzberg’s family members but others have retained legal counsel.
The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office hasn’t set a deadline for deciding whether to bring charges, said Penny Cramer, assistant to County Attorney Sheila Polk. The prosecutorial agency declined to comment on the police report.
The case was handed to Polk’s office after the prosecutor’s office in metro Phoenix passed on the case, citing a potential conflict of interest. The agency in Phoenix had previously participated in a public-safety campaign with Uber.
On a body camera video the night of the crash, police gathered at the scene quickly realized that they were dealing with a big story because an autonomous vehicle was involved.
An officer who identifies himself as supervisor of the unit that investigates fatal crashes is seen asking a man who appears to be an Uber supervisor about getting video from the SUV and whether Uber’s lawyers have been contacted.
“You guys know as well as I know that this is going to be an international story,” the police supervisor says. “We want to make sure that we’re doing not only what we normally do and not doing anything different, but also making sure that everything’s above board and everything’s out in the open.”
The supervisor goes on to say that he’s going to communicate as honestly as he can. “I hope that you guys do the same because we’re going to be working together throughout this whole process from now, probably for months from now.”
Intel Corp Chief Executive Brian Krzanich resigned on Thursday after a probe found his consensual relationship with an employee violated company policy.
The head of the largest U.S. chipmaker is the latest in a line of powerful men in business and politics to lose their jobs or resign over relationships viewed as inappropriate, a phenomenon highlighted by the #MeToo movement.
“An ongoing investigation by internal and external counsel has confirmed a violation of Intel’s non-fraternization policy, which applies to all managers,” Intel said in a statement.
The board named Chief Financial Officer Robert Swan as interim CEO and said it has begun a search for a permanent CEO, including both internal and external candidates.
Intel declined to give any further information about the probe. Intel shares fell 1.5 percent in early trade.
Wall Street took Krzanich’s unexpected departure in stride.
“Although we respect Krzanich’s efforts in redirecting Intel’s strategy from a computer-centric to a data-centric company, we view Intel as a process-driven company with a deep bench of CEO candidates that can continue to drive the corporate strategy,” said Kevin Cassidy, an analyst at Stifel.
Krzanich, 58, was appointed Intel CEO in May 2013, and was in charge of moving the company’s focus to growing data centers from personal computers. Intel shares more than doubled during his tenure.
He was recently credited with containing the fallout from the disclosure of some security flaws in the company’s chips that could allow hackers to steal data from computers, although his sale of some Intel stock before the flaws were disclosed to investors attracted some criticism.
“There are no new payments as part of his departure,” a source familiar with the company told Reuters.
Temporary replacement Swan has been Intel’s CFO since October 2016 and previously spent nine years as CFO of eBay Inc.
Intel on Thursday raised its second-quarter revenue and profit forecast, saying it expects quarterly revenue of about $16.9 billion and adjusted profit of about 99 cents per share, up from a previous forecast of $16.3 billion in revenue and adjusted earnings per share of 85 cents.
Analysts on average were expecting revenue of $16.29 billion and adjusted profit of 85 cents per share.
Social media app Instagram announced Wednesday that it would be increasing its time limit for videos posted on its platform from one minute to 10 minutes, as part of a general expansion of the app’s video capabilities.
The photo-sharing app also announced it would be launching a stand-alone app called IGTV to host these long-form videos. The app will be available this week, according to technology website, The Verge.
“When you watch longer video, you need a different context,” Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told The Verge. “We really wanted to separate those two, so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”
The longer videos will also be available through a tab in the original Instagram application. Accounts with wide audiences will be able to post videos of up to an hour.
The update comes as Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion — is looking to compete with fellow video platform YouTube for young users.
Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Since then, the video-sharing website has ballooned to a user base of 1.8 billion, becoming a platform for aspiring content creators looking to strike it big.
Systrom told The Associated Press he hoped his app would gain similar success with the IGTV update. At a release event for the app Wednesday, the company announced IGTV now had over 1 billion users.
The IGTV app will function similar to television. Videos will begin playing as soon as the user opens the app and will fill be full-screen vertically — contrasting with YouTube, which requires users to turn their phones horizontally for full-screen capabilities.
Facebook announced Tuesday it would be launching a series of interactive shows on its own video outlet, Facebook Watch.
Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway have picked well-known author and Harvard professor Dr. Atul Gawande to transform the health care they give their employees.
The three corporate titans said Wednesday that Gawande will lead an independent company focused on a mission they announced earlier this year: figure out ways to improve a broken and often inefficient system for delivering care.
Health care researchers have said any possible solutions produced by this new venture will be felt well beyond the estimated 1 million workers the three companies employ in the United States. Other businesses that provide employee health coverage are eager to find solutions for health care costs that often rise faster than inflation and squeeze their budgets in the process.
Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett has described health costs as a “hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”
Leaders of the three companies have said little about how their Boston-based venture plans to tackle this problem, but they have noted that it will take time to figure out solutions, a point they emphasized again on Wednesday.
“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a prepared statement. “[Gawande] embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”
Employer-sponsored insurance covers about 157 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly half the total U.S. population and the biggest slice of the country’s patchwork health insurance market.
Neither companies nor many of their employees are happy with how the system currently works. Employers have reacted in part to rising expenses by raising deductibles and other costs, asking their workers to pay more of the bill and to shop around for better deals. Many patients, especially the sickest, struggle with that.
Gawande is surgeon and professor at both Harvard’s Medical School and its T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He said in a statement Wednesday that he has devoted his career in public health to building solutions for better care delivery, and that while the current system is broken, “better is possible.”
The consortium’s leaders have said they aren’t looking for a quick fix. JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said during an appearance on CNBC earlier this month that fraud in the system, high administrative costs and the overuse and underuse of some drugs are among the many complications that must be improved.
The three companies said in late January that their new venture will focus on technology that provides simplified, high-quality and transparent care.
Amazon’s participation and customer-first focus will be crucial, according to Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit that represents large employers.
He noted that employers already offer ways to help patients shop for care or see a doctor remotely through telemedicine. But people don’t use this technology unless they need it, so they haven’t grown comfortable with it.
That could change if they go through a well-known platform like Amazon, which could then reach into its vast trove of customer data to personalize the shopping, Marcotte said. If, for instance, you are a runner considering knee surgery, Amazon could lay out the best or common practices for your condition and maybe show that surgery isn’t your only option.
“It’s not only reaching people in the moment, it’s the possibility to reach people with relevant personalized messaging that will engage them,” Marcotte said.
Barely six months after inaugurating a tiny software-coding boot camp in a basement in Tokyo, Silicon Valley transplant Kani Munidasa stood before some of Japan’s top business leaders in February with a warning: software was threatening their future.
A Sri Lankan native with a Japanese mother and wife, Munidasa was speaking at the invitation of Nobuyuki Idei, a former chief executive of Sony.
Idei had offered to become an adviser to the boot camp, called Code Chrysalis, whose mission of bringing Japan’s software engineering up to global standards and helping its companies transform aligned with his own.
“Idei-san told me, ‘Tell it as it is; don’t sugar-coat anything. They need to hear that change has to happen,'” Munidasa said, recalling how he showed up at the executives’ meeting in a T-shirt and hoodie.
Long known as a “monozukuri” – or manufacturing – powerhouse, Japan is in danger of getting left behind as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning sweep through industries from cars to banking, Idei and others say.
Japanese companies have traditionally treated software as a means to cut costs rather than add value, and code-writers as second-class citizens. Entry-level software engineers in Japan make about $40,000 on average – less than half their U.S. counterparts.
Programs like Code Chrysalis are trying to change that by injecting Silicon Valley training methods into Japan’s slow-to-change corporate culture.
Coding, “soft skills” like public speaking and even physical fitness are all on the agenda. Since Code Chrysalis opened last July, a dozen students have graduated from its 12-week course, with six more in the pipeline. The camp currently accepts up to eight applicants per session.
For the students, the benefits are clear: their salaries increased by an average of nearly 80 percent after graduation, according to Code Chrysalis.
Japanese companies are desperate for skilled developers, with top IT recruiter Computer Futures seeing 2.3 job openings for every applicant so far this year, and most positions being filled by foreigners.
Educators and industry leaders hope programs such as Code Chrysalis will be transformative for Japan.
“Even if the numbers are small, I think (Code Chrysalis) can have a big impact,” Idei told Reuters, noting that Japan had focused too much on “physical goods” in the post-Internet age.
“The United States has Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon,” said Idei, now CEO of his consultancy, Quantum Leaps. “China’s got Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Japan doesn’t have a single platform company. That’s the No. 1 difference.”
A textbook problem
Japan’s English-language education, notoriously focused on standardised testing, has hindered the development of good programmers, industry insiders say.
Without a good grasp of the language, programmers are always a step behind, waiting for translations to access cutting-edge tools and methods.
Toyota is making English the common language for the 1,000 software engineers it plans to employ at a new automated-driving unit launching in Tokyo next month.
James Kuffner, CEO of the unit, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), said Japan’s computer science education was also overly based on textbook learning.
Recalling the “horrible and boring” lectures he sat through at the prestigious University of Tokyo as a post-doctoral research fellow in 1999, Kuffner said the classes did little to prepare students for the real world. Coding boot camps are a step in the right direction, he said.
“I want to figure out a way to fix the education system because it’s also important for our company,” said Kuffner, who still serves as an adjunct associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. “I would love to make a university where (everything) you did was project-based.”
Rebooting the system
Munidasa and his co-founder, Yan Fan, tailored their course around project-based learning, teaching exclusively in English.
Just one other English-language coding boot camp exists in Japan, run by French chain Le Wagon since late 2016, with 75 graduates so far. That program, which costs 790,000 yen ($7,200) for a nine-week course, targets beginners looking for a job in software development, who want to freelance, or who are launching their own start-ups.
“The positioning is very different because we work with beginners to bring them to a junior-developer level,” said Paul Gaumer, co-founder of Le Wagon Japan.
Munidasa and Fan’s program, which is aimed at higher-level training, has so far rejected nearly 80 percent of applicants, some of whom couldn’t meet the English requirement. To help, they added a four-week English-communication course.
During Code Chrysalis’ 1.03 million yen ($9,390), full-time course, students learn to become “full-stack” engineers, covering servers, user interfaces, and everything in between.
Beyond coding, they get unconventional instruction: voice training from an opera singer, squats challenges, and assignments requiring intense teamwork.
Code Chrysalis has already caught the attention of some big Japanese firms, including information technology giant NTT Data.
Its applied software engineering centre is using Code Chrysalis for part of its training and has placed an engineer in the current cohort.
“Our customers are increasingly looking for faster and cheaper software development, and we need to be able to meet those demands,” said human resources manager Kotaro Kimura.
Masataka Shintoku, an engineer in NTT Data’s sales and planning group who found Code Chrysalis on his own and graduated in March, says he’s already putting his new skills to work.
“I’m now able to create an app on my own and show prospective clients what we can do,” he said.
Kuffner said he hopes to emulate the storied Toyota Production System to create the software world’s “best process for writing bug-free software” as automated cars incorporate millions of lines of code.
“Japanese people are hard-working, very dedicated,” he said. “I have no question in my mind that with the right training they could be some of the best software engineers in the world.”
Two men on motorbikes approached a broken-down vehicle in Caracas one day earlier this month in what could have been a nightmare scenario in one of the world’s most dangerous cities where roadside robberies and murders are an everyday occurrence.
The men took up positions either side of the green four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a 33-year-old female schoolteacher behind the wheel, and guarded it until a tow truck arrived two hours later to cart it off to a garage.
The two guards are employees of a new mobile application called “Pana” – “Buddy” in Venezuelan slang – which dispatches security crews to stranded drivers who request help.
It’s a reflection of how Venezuelans are turning to technology to overcome the dangers and nuisances of living in the crisis-hit country. Mobile payment apps, for example, attract customers who do not have enough paper money, which is in short supply due to hyperinflation.
Domingo Coronil who started Pana with his brother Juan Cristobal last September said they have carried out more than 5,000 successful driver rescues on the streets of the capital.
“People’s reactions have been amazing. Some start crying, while others take selfies,” the 46-year-old security consultant said in an interview.
Violence in Venezuela has shot up during the oil-wealthy country’s spiral into a five-year economic crisis and political meltdown. Many Caracas residents refuse to go out at night due to security fears, and wealthier Venezuelans often travel in bullet-proof cars with bodyguards.
There were almost 27,000 violent deaths in the country last year, with Venezuela having the second highest murder rate in the world after El Salvador, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local crime monitoring group.
National homicide rates rose each year from 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2011 to 92 in 2016, before dipping to 89 last year, according to the group.
The homicide rate in Caracas alone was 104 per 100,000 people in 2017, the group said. New York, in contrast, had a homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 last year and most European cities had less than 1.
A recent Gallup study placed Venezuela at the bottom of its 2018 Law and Order index, with 42 percent of surveyed Venezuelans reporting they had been robbed the previous year and one-quarter saying they had been assaulted.
“The fear people have isn’t you’ll be robbed in your car, but that you’ll be killed or kidnapped,” said Roberto Briceno Leon, the observatory’s director.
Venezuelan authorities say nongovernmental groups inflate crime figures to create paranoia and tarnish President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. But even the most recent official national murder rate – 58 per 100,000 inhabitants for 2015 – was still among the world’s highest.
About 700 people have joined Pana because of the high crime rate, Coronil said, each paying an annual fee of 4,800,000 bolivars, or about $2 to $4 on the black market, to request help as many times as they want at any hour day or night.
The company receives a customer’s geo-locations at its headquarters and dispatches two of its 28 security guards to the breakdown. Coronil hopes to expand coverage to roads outside Caracas and offer corporate plans.
Vanessa Mikuski, the schoolteacher in the van, tapped the button in Pana’s smartphone app when her car broke down without warning that June morning in the east of Caracas. A friend had recommended she download it last year.
The two Pana security guards, who were not armed and wear jackets with the app’s logo, kept pedestrians and drivers away while Mikuski waited and arranged for her children to be picked up from school.
“You feel much more secure … And at that price, it’s great,” she said.