Techonomy http://techonomy.com Wed, 23 Jul 2014 21:06:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 A Food Waste Reduction Movement Gathers Steam http://techonomy.com/2014/07/food-waste-reduction-movement-gathers-steam/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/food-waste-reduction-movement-gathers-steam/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:13:30 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17552 Americans today are paying closer attention to food waste, long a European concern. Helping them reduce that waste is an important new opportunity for food and restaurant brands. Like Ikea and EasyJet, who have made the spartan ethic trendy, food firms can make this an integral part of their brand story. It's a welcome development given that Americans throw away between 30-40 percent of our edible food every year. Mainstream food brands need to rethink policy and get creative to drive both internal and consumer food-saving behaviors.

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Americans today are paying closer attention to food waste, long a European concern. Helping them reduce that waste is an important new opportunity for food and restaurant brands. Like Ikea and EasyJet, who have made the spartan ethic trendy, food firms can make this an integral part of their brand story. It’s a welcome development given that Americans throw away between 30-40 percent of our edible food every year. Mainstream food brands need to rethink policy and get creative to drive both internal and consumer food-saving behaviors.

We all instinctively know that it is senseless to waste a perfectly good meal that could go into the mouths of the hungry. But there is also a hefty price tag for food waste to business and society. It has only recently been quantified: an estimated $165 billion per year. What’s more, every ounce of the estimated 33 million tons of food we don’t eat contributes far more than its weight in waste. According to the NRDC, getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and soaks up 80 percent of all fresh water used in the United States. Uneaten food also ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for a considerable portion of methane emissions that cause global warming. The EPA estimates that food waste has increased 50 percent since the 1970s.

The good news is that both corporations and consumers now have access to a growing number of initiatives making it easier to avoid waste—solutions that go from farm to store to fridge, and all the way through to trash. A few examples:

Farm auctions: CropMobster ensures that no farmer has to throw away unsold food. It links communities in need with local farmers, producers, and food purveyors who can quickly sell or donate excess produce.

Clever Food Service: Sodexo food service has begun operating more than 300 “trayless” cafeterias on college campuses, discouraging students from overloading their trays and thus resulting in a 30 percent reduction in food waste. Restaurant companies like Darden (Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster) have put systems into place to distribute surplus food to soup kitchens throughout the country.

Fresher FridgeFreshPaper by Fenugreen has launched a simple piece of paper infused with spices that organically keeps fruits and veggies fresh for 2-4 times longer.  Designers there like Jihyun David are even looking at ways to create “food symbiosis” in your fridge: for example, putting apples which emit ethylene gas next to potatoes apparently prevents the latter from sprouting. And Google, in recognition of the fact that global queries for the word “leftovers” surged by one-third in comparison to last year, has collaborated with the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to launch Food Rescue. It’s a new app that lets people dictate up to nine ingredients into their smartphones and get recipe combinations that can utilize their leftover food.

Trash Power: A growing number of companies are monetizing even rotten food. Harvest Power has 40 plants across the North America that take food waste plus leaves and yard trimmings and through anaerobic digestion and composting transform them into renewable energy to power neighborhood homes. A fringe benefit: natural fertilizer that Harvest Power sells to farmers and landscapers.

While we are slowly making progress in reducing food waste, there remains substantial room for improvement. The food industry still relies too heavily on bundling promotion offers that encourage excess purchases of perishable items. If we’re going to wind up throwing food away, buying lots of it on promo doesn’t work out to be a very good deal. Brands should rethink this policy. More thoughtful portion sizing can be a way to help people avoid opening more than necessary. Re-sealable bags can be helpful in facilitating proper storage. Beyond that, brands can use packaging to educate consumers on how to better store and use perishable ingredients. Even simple messaging can make a big difference, for example “Frozen grapes are delicious.”

The time is ripe for leaders in the food industry to innovate and stake claim to a new space in the consumer mind: responsible eating for our waistbands, our wallets and our planet.

Leslie Pascaud is EVP at the global marketing consultancy Added Value.

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An Affordable Robot for the Home? http://techonomy.com/2014/07/affordable-robot-home/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/affordable-robot-home/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:33:28 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17560 Rapid innovation in smartphone technology has given us a glimpse of how we will interact with digital tools that can understand and adapt to our preferences and tendencies. Now, an MIT professor is betting that people will welcome a more sophisticated digital personal assistant into their homes. Cynthia Breazeal, who has twenty years of experience working with technology that enables robots to respond to social cues, has created Jibo, an innovation that her company claims is the world’s first family robot. Priced at $499, Jibo is significantly more affordable than other similar robots on the market, but can do many of the same tasks, like order takeout, recognize and track faces, and make video calls. Read more at re/code

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unknown-7-e1405441329834Rapid innovation in smartphone technology has given us a glimpse of how we will interact with digital tools that can understand and adapt to our preferences and tendencies. Now, an MIT professor is betting that people will welcome a more sophisticated digital personal assistant into their homes. Cynthia Breazeal, who has twenty years of experience working with technology that enables robots to respond to social cues, has created Jibo, an innovation that her company claims is the world’s first family robot. Priced at $499, Jibo is significantly more affordable than other similar robots on the market, but can do many of the same tasks, like order takeout, recognize and track faces, and make video calls. Jibo’s designers have also made an effort to give the device, both in its physical design and “voice,” a friendly, human-like personality.

Read more at re/code

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Diagnosing the First Patient: Genomics to the Rescue http://techonomy.com/2014/07/diagnosing-first-patient-genomics-rescue/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/diagnosing-first-patient-genomics-rescue/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:52:49 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17535 Nic Volker. Beatrice Rienhoff. Alexis and Noah Beery. If you happen to be a scientist or clinician in the genomics field, you already know the topic of this article just from those four names. Each is a child who suffered from a mysterious or even one-of-a-kind disease. Collectively, they endured years in hospitals, met dozens of doctors, took countless tests to achieve that precious objective: a diagnosis. And for each of these kids, DNA sequencing was critical to providing that answer.

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Nic Volker. Beatrice Rienhoff. Alexis and Noah Beery.

If you happen to be a scientist or clinician in the genomics field, you already know the topic of this article just from those four names. Each is a child who suffered from a mysterious or even one-of-a-kind disease. Collectively, they endured years in hospitals, met dozens of doctors, took countless tests to achieve that precious objective: a diagnosis. And for each of these kids, DNA sequencing was critical to providing that answer.

Thanks to this insightful article just out in The New Yorker, we can add two more names to that list: Bertrand Might and Grace Wilsey. Both of these kids were born with debilitating diseases and spent years careering from one doctor to the next, awaiting some kind of verdict. The quests are so common that we have a term for it: the diagnostic odyssey.

These kids—from Nic Volker through to Grace Wilsey—lucked out. They got the diagnosis they needed, which will help their parents better navigate the challenges of treatment options and, in some cases, anticipate disease progression. Still, what we learn from these new stories of Bertrand Might and Grace Wilsey is sobering. The truth is, if you’re a child with a vanishingly rare disease, your only real shot at the diagnosis brass ring is to choose parents who are wealthy or well-connected (preferably both). The financial, medical, and scientific resources tapped by these families as they search for what’s wrong with their kids are not available to most people.

There are rare diseases, and there are rare diseases. Even for diseases affecting just a few thousand people, there are foundations and occasional public funding. What we’re hearing about now, these Rienhoff and Might and Volker stories, are diseases where each kid is the first ever known to have had that disease. Eventually, the new disease will be fully characterized and other patients will be found who also have it (The New Yorker article covers this angle nicely). As that happens, a miniature community will form, and these people will be able to start support groups, foundations, and clinical trials. But when a disease is originally classified, none of that exists. These first-diagnosed kids are medical marvels, the beginning of a whole new lineage.

Which is why their names, at least within the biomedical community, have become famous. These stories resonate not just because of the components of any good narrative—the seemingly hopeless quest, the passionate parents, the young protagonists, the plot twists and turns—but because they represent the earliest clinical successes of genome sequencing. They are living proof that this field can make a difference; that zooming down to the DNA level really can tell us what’s wrong when medicine doesn’t have a ready answer.

These are themes we’ve covered in Techonomy articles and at our first Techonomy Bio conference in June. DNA diagnosis is exciting and full of potential, but in the near term it may be a story of gross inequality about how these miracles are doled out. It’s a trend we will continue to report on as more of these compelling stories emerge.

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Smartphones Could Help Mitigate Bipolar Disorder http://techonomy.com/2014/07/smartphones-help-mitigate-bipolar-disorder/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/smartphones-help-mitigate-bipolar-disorder/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:27:57 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17537 People who suffer from bipolar disorder may soon be equipped with another line of defense in their battle against manic and depressive episodes. Not with more psychologists or prescriptions, but, surprisingly enough, with their smartphones. A new app from the University of Michigan is experimenting with using voice analysis to detect impending mood swings and alert doctors before an episode becomes a crisis, or worse, an attempted suicide. The app works by listening to a patient's' phone calls, and automatically recording, encrypting, and analyzing them to produce data sets. Read more at WNYC

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People who suffer from bipolar disorder may soon be equipped with another line of defense in their battle against manic and depressive episodes. Not with more psychologists or prescriptions, but, surprisingly enough, with their smartphones. A new app from the University of Michigan is experimenting with using voice analysis to detect impending mood swings and alert doctors before an episode becomes a crisis, or worse, an attempted suicide.

The app works by listening to a patient’s’ phone calls, and automatically recording, encrypting, and analyzing them to produce data sets. While more than 50 voice variables—including tone, rate, rhythm, and volume—are inspected, encryption guarantees that the actual content of the calls are kept private. If the app finds deviations from an individual’s established vocal norms, it can alert the patient’s doctor, who can then make the necessary interventions.

Researchers say the app could extend beyond bipolar disorder to help patients with schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and PTSD, proving a true breakthrough in mental health management. As part of an ongoing study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the app will need much more testing before it can be made available to the public.

Read more at WNYC

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Google Teams Up with Environmental Scientists to Map Gas Leaks http://techonomy.com/2014/07/google-teams-environmental-scientists-map-gas-leaks/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/google-teams-environmental-scientists-map-gas-leaks/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:29:12 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17495 Google Maps Street View lets people discover any place in the world and explore it via the Web as if they were actually there. Now, the cars that take photos for Street View are using advanced sensor technology to search for gas leaks and faulty pipes in places like Staten Island, Boston, and Indianapolis. Google has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to pinpoint sources of pollution using methane sensors and data-crunching algorithms. Read more at WNYC

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Google Maps Street View lets people discover any place in the world and explore it via the Web as if they were actually there. Now, the cars that take photos for Street View are using advanced sensor technology to search for gas leaks and faulty pipes in places like Staten Island, Boston, and Indianapolis. Google has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to pinpoint sources of pollution using methane sensors and data-crunching algorithms. The project will map leaks that could pose immediate health risks and search for lower level releases of methane, which has 120 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Speaking at Techonomy 2011, former Picarro CEO Michael Woelk outlined a similar venture, while EDF President Fred Krupp previewed the ways that tech and data could one day help regulate pollution. Three years later, with help from arguably the biggest data company in the world, those visions are becoming reality.

Read more at WNYC

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Shanghai Street View: Troubled Technology http://techonomy.com/2014/07/shanghai-street-view-troubled-technology/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/shanghai-street-view-troubled-technology/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:24:56 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17490 This week’s Street View takes us to Shanghai’s rapidly aging Maglev train, which was once the city’s pride and joy when it first opened in 2004 offering the world’s fastest speeds in a commercial rail service. The Maglev celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, even as debate grows about a technology that has been overtaken by slower but less costly high speed rail trains in the last few years. More broadly speaking, the sputtering Maglev also shines a spotlight on Shanghai’s inability to become a leading center for technology development.

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The Maglev train station in Shanghai (Image via Shutterstock)

This week’s Street View takes us to Shanghai’s rapidly aging Maglev train, which was once the city’s pride and joy when it first opened in 2004 offering the world’s fastest speeds in a commercial rail service. The Maglev celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, even as debate grows about a technology that has been overtaken by slower but less costly high speed rail trains in the last few years.

More broadly speaking, the sputtering Maglev also shines a spotlight on Shanghai’s inability to become a leading center for technology development. As a China tech watcher for more than a decade, I can definitively say that my adopted city may be quite good at finance and other services, but is a relative laggard to Beijing and Shenzhen for high-tech development.

The Maglev system was in the headlines this past week as people debated the future of the 30.5-kilometer line that runs from the Longyang Road subway station to Pudong International Airport. That ground-breaking $1.2 billion line made global headlines when it began operations a decade ago, ferrying people back and forth at the record speed of up to 431 kilometers per hour. China once talked of building an entire national network based on the technology, with Shanghai standing at the epicenter of development by hosting the world’s first commercial line.

But the plans hit a roadblock after China failed to reach agreement with the German firms that developed the technology. In the absence of such a technology transfer agreement, Beijing decided to build a national network of trains that could travel at very high speeds, even if they weren’t quite as fast as the Maglev.

I assumed that maglev development was dead in China, but it seems the technology is still alive in several hot spots. One news report said several Chinese cities are developing their own maglev lines, including a Beijing line costing 17.6 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) that is now in the testing phase. The interior city of Changsha is also planning its own line, and similar plans have been discussed in Shenzhen.

As a longtime Shanghai resident, I remember frequently using the Maglev shortly after it first opened in 2004. In the early years people rode the train as much for its novelty as its convenience. Whoever designed the line didn’t do a very good job, because the Longyang station at its terminus was located in a difficult area to reach in Pudong.

That meant that anyone wanting to take the train to the airport first had to get to Longyang station. The Maglev trip itself took less than 10 minutes, but the combined time of getting to the station, buying a ticket and waiting for the next train meant that trips to the airport often could take an hour or more – the same as or longer than taking a taxi.

The opening of a subway line to Pudong Airport before the 2010 Shanghai Expo dealt the biggest blow by offering trips for far cheaper prices than the Maglev. In a bid to lower costs, the rail’s operator slowed down train speeds to a rate that was still quite fast but no longer reached the previous record, dampening enthusiasm from tourists. It also cut the trip frequency, meaning passengers sometimes had to wait up to half an hour for the next train.

I wasn’t surprised to read that Beijing and Shenzhen were among the cities planning to build their own maglev lines, as the pair have emerged as China’s high-tech leaders over the last decade. Beijing is home to many of China’s biggest Internet companies, including Baidu, Youku Tudou, and Sina. Shenzhen is also a tech leader, hosting Tencent, China’s biggest Internet company, as well as telecoms giants Huawei and ZTE.

By comparison, Shanghai is home to mostly second-tier tech players like game operator Shanda and chipmaker SMIC, which were once industry leaders but later failed to realize their potential. E-commerce giant Alibaba reportedly once considered making Shanghai its home, but later decided on Hangzhou due to Shanghai’s high costs.

Tech reporters often lament Shanghai’s lack of technology prowess, despite its efforts that include the building of a number of high-tech parks. It’s hard to say why the tech companies in Shanghai have failed to become national leaders, since the city has all the necessary infrastructure and talent to create a good environment for such development. I suspect one major reason is the government’s lack of longer-term commitment to cultivating such companies, which is clearly the case in the Maglev’s rapid fading into obscurity.

Doug Young lives in Shanghai and writes opinion pieces about tech investment in China for Techonomy and at www.youngchinabiz.com. He is the author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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Innovation Hubs Are Accelerating American Manufacturing http://techonomy.com/2014/07/innovation-hubs-accelerating-american-manufacturing/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/innovation-hubs-accelerating-american-manufacturing/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:14:35 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17467 There’s a renaissance underway in American manufacturing. Even as rising wages and energy costs in China are leading more U.S. companies to bring manufacturing stateside, economic indicators point towards real industrial progress. The Institute for Supply Management's monthly Report on Business shows that 15 of 18 manufacturing industries grew in June, and a composite index based on five industry indicators shows a steady expansion in manufacturing for the 13th consecutive month.

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There’s a renaissance underway in American manufacturing. Even as rising wages and energy costs in China are leading more U.S. companies to bring manufacturing stateside, economic indicators point towards real industrial progress. The Institute for Supply Management’s monthly Report on Business shows that 15 of 18 manufacturing industries grew in June, and a composite index based on five industry indicators shows a steady expansion in manufacturing for the 13th consecutive month.

“Now, we need to shift the conversation to what’s behind the return of the American manufacturing industry,” wrote Forbes contributor TJ McCue in a recent article. “What can be done about the decline in traditional manufacturing jobs? and … how new breakthroughs in technology can alter mainstream manufacturing and affect national competitiveness.”

The Obama administration is proposing new program that could lead to breakthroughs in manufacturing technologies. In August 2012, the President laid the early groundwork for a plan to help revitalize American manufacturing through the development of innovative technologies and processes that could address McCue’s challenge. At the center of the administration’s plan are so-called Manufacturing Innovation Institutes—public-private hubs comprised of industry leaders, universities, and the federal government working together to advance manufacturing. Funding comes from an initial government investment over five years that must be matched or exceeded by corporate and educational partners.

The administration said in 2013 that it hopes to eventually establish a network of 45 institutes across the U.S., up from its original goal of 15. Germany’s Fraunhofer Society, a similar network of 67 institutes, is a partial model for the U.S. initiative.

The federal National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining established the program with $30 million, and an additional $40 million came from partners of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). The flagship additive manufacturing and 3D printing institute, America Makes, opened in Youngstown, Ohio in 2012.

Since then, three more Manufacturing Innovation Institutes have been announced, each geared toward a particular field of manufacturing development and funded in a similar fashion. At North Carolina State University at Raleigh, an innovation hub known as the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute was launched in January 2014 and tasked with improving energy efficiency. N.C. State and its partners will tackle the broad challenge by advancing the technology and production of special power-oriented semiconductors to improve efficiency in applications ranging from electronic devices to electric vehicles.

President Obama followed that with a February press conference that introduced Manufacturing Innovation Institutes for Detroit and Chicago. The Michigan institute, based just west of Detroit in Canton, began operations this spring looking at lightweight materials. Chicago now houses a Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute focused on digital technology and data management advancements.

At less than four year old, the program is still in its infancy, but the initiative is drawing praise from manufacturing leaders, including Proto Labs, the technology-enabled quick-turn manufacturer of plastic and metal prototype parts I work for in Minnesota. Vicki Holt, our CEO, applauded the government’s commitment. “The future of our industry lies in the integration of hardware and advanced software to maximize the efficiency, quality and affordability of manufacturing processes,” Holt says. “Leveraging the innovation of the American software community is the key to making American manufacturing competitive once again.”

Four more Manufacturing Innovation Institutes are slated to open in 2014. The administration is pushing forward on the first one with a competition led by the Department of Energy. The competition challenged industry leaders and universities around the country to prepare bids for a Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composites Materials and Structures. Final proposals were due by June 24.

“If we want to attract more good manufacturing jobs to America, we’ve got to make sure we’re on the cutting edge of new manufacturing techniques and technologies,” said President Obama in a February press conference. “Typically, a lot of research and development wants to be co-located with where manufacturing is taking place—because if you design something, you want to see how is it working and how is it getting made, and then tinker with it and fix it…. So if all the manufacturing is somewhere else, the lead we’ve got in terms of design and research and development, we’ll lose that too. That will start locating overseas. And we will have lost what is the single most important thing about American economy, and that is innovation.”

Bill Dietrick is Vice President of Global Marketing at Proto Labs, a maker of injection-molded and CNC-machined plastic and metal parts for prototyping and manufacturing.

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Paranoia Muddies Media’s View of Bitcoin’s Potential http://techonomy.com/2014/07/paranoia-muddies-medias-view-bitcoins-potential/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/paranoia-muddies-medias-view-bitcoins-potential/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 19:03:28 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17406 European financial regulators just took a positive step to engage directly with the disruptive effects of the growing cryptocurrency ecosystem, but you might not have realized that. The European Banking Authority (EBA) watchdog agency issued a report on Friday, July 11, titled “Opinion on ‘virtual currencies’.” It then received a great deal of media attention – most of it negative.

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European financial regulators just took a positive step to engage directly with the disruptive effects of the growing cryptocurrency ecosystem, but you might not have realized that. The European Banking Authority (EBA) watchdog agency issued a report on Friday, July 11, titled “Opinion on ‘virtual currencies’.” It then received a great deal of media attention—most of it negative.

The document did critically detail 70 key risks associated with digital currencies, including those related to individual users, financial institutions, and ironically, even regulators themselves. The key takeaway discussed in most public reports was the agency’s recommendation that EU financial institutions should not buy, sell, or hold virtual currencies. Most journalists and casual observers were left with the impression that Bitcoin is too dangerous and volatile to go mainstream. In short: people and banks should steer clear.

However, those taking the time to browse through the EBA’s 46-page report will notice what most of the press did not-—that it also acknowledged and highlighted several key benefits of Bitcoin, such as lower transaction costs and faster processing times. These benefits should not be discounted lightly, as even incremental improvements in speed and costs could buttress the tenuous global economic recovery and bring benefits both to individuals and institutions. These innovations could also have a huge positive effect in bringing efficiency and lower prices to the global remittance market, which according to the World Bank is expected to grow to over half a trillion dollars by 2016. Even if one buys into the EBA’s hypothesis that Bitcoin’s risk/reward ratio is currently negative, nobody can predict what it will look like in the future.

The reaction to the EBA report shows that despite the old adage there is no such thing as bad publicity, Bitcoin may have gotten too much attention in recent months. Certainly there have been substantial hiccups in its deployment. The coverage ranges from the collapse of Japan’s Mt. Gox exchange in February to French authorities this week dismantling an illegal Bitcoin exchange in the country.  We’ve also read much lately about VC firms focusing on the crypto ecosystem, capped this week by wallet service Xapo raising $20m on a valuation north of $100m. These mixed reports are conveying conflicting impressions, either that the ecosystem is fundamentally unstable or that the experts understand it better than do ordinary people, so are rushing to exploit it. Either way, all but the most obsessed come away with skepticism or even fear. Call it “Cryptopayment Paranoia”.

For sure, there are significant inherent political and regulatory challenges associated with Bitcoin—like many other technological innovations. Some of these are more pronounced because they deal with financial transactions—which directly impact the economy and peoples’ livelihoods. Bitcoin has triggered concerns about risks ranging from money laundering to terrorist financing.

But we have spent time talking to European government officials, investors, and bankers. And we’re convinced that the EBA report is not urging banks to forever freeze out Bitcoin. Rather, EU regulators just want to keep something along the lines of an “air gap” or wall between virtual and fiat currencies. This approach makes some sense. Primarily, it serves to signal that the EU is not (yet) ready to make an overall determination on Bitcoin one way or another. This may not qualify as encouragement, but it should not be read as outright hostility either.

Ultimately, however, the EBA’s desire to sandbox the Bitcoin ecosystem and build a comprehensive regulatory environment from scratch in a sterile environment is not feasible. This fact epitomizes the fundamental challenge impacting regulators today across the spectrum of emerging technology. There is no stopwatch or timeout that can be used. Further, there is a race in technology after technology, taking place around the world as various communities seek to become the first movers who can embrace new tools and reap the greatest rewards. This effort is especially complicated in the EU, which aims to get all its 28 countries moving in lockstep, however difficult that may be.

When talking to financial regulators from key continental European countries about how to deal with cryptocurrencies, one gets a sense that they are looking to the European Central Bank, and other key financial institutions such as the Bundesbank in Frankfurt for guidance in formulating a common EU posture. For now it’s unclear when the powerful central bankers around the world will seriously join that discussion. Canada has adopted an ambitious Bill called C-31, thought to be the world’s first national Bitcoin law, but most regulators are taking a very cautious approach.

Therefore, last week’s EBA report opens up an opportunity for sophisticated and responsible players in the Bitcoin ecosystem to further showcase their adherence to best practices (including strict Know-Your-Customer and Anti-Money-Laundering rules) and to engage in a serious dialogue with government players about how to leverage the tremendous potential of cryptocurrencies for the benefits of consumers and companies as well as traditional financial institutions.

The successful rise of cryptocurrencies will require patience, clear thinking, and unprecedented cooperation from all involved parties. That’s a tall order. But failure in these efforts could cost us substantial potential benefits now and in the future.

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The Convergence of Medical and Consumer Health Apps http://techonomy.com/2014/07/convergence-medical-consumer-health-apps/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/convergence-medical-consumer-health-apps/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:27:28 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17388 Consumer healthcare apps linked to smartphones or wearable devices are growing in popularity, and forthcoming offerings from Apple and Google are likely to draw more attention to the field. These systems allow users to monitor a range of information—heart rate, calories burned, distance walked—but they don’t guarantee a change in behavior, much less an improvement in health.

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Consumer healthcare apps linked to smartphones or wearable devices are growing in popularity, and forthcoming offerings from Apple and Google are likely to draw more attention to the field. These systems allow users to monitor a range of information—heart rate, calories burned, distance walked—but they don’t guarantee a change in behavior, much less an improvement in health.

Still, many doctors and clinicians see great potential for mobile medical apps. According to an April article in Modern Healthcare, 2013 “saw the beginning of convergence between devices and apps used by clinicians and those used by consumers.” In the future, experts see the integration of consumer apps and devices into “a comprehensive healthcare and wellness information system,” that could enable medical professionals to help patients manage their health, according to the report.

The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets is creating opportunities for that to happen, but hurdles remain, including the as-yet-uncertain regulatory demands on those who create and deploy apps that not only take measurements but actually prescribe a course of action for a patient.

When used in a clinical setting monitored by physicians, mobile apps are already leading to improved health. In a recent cardiac rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic, patients who used a smartphone-based app developed by the clinic to record daily measurements such as blood pressure, weight, blood sugar levels, minutes of physical activity, and dietary habits over a three-month period were less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 90 days of discharge, compared with those patients who followed a traditional regime. The app also provided educational materials that would formerly have been provided via books, CDs, and DVDs. The interactive nature of the process led to improved results.

The cardiac rehab app was developed by the Clinic’s cardiology team in tandem with Dallas-based Healarium. “They had the proper platform already set up,” says R. Jay Widmer, an M.D./Ph.D. who oversaw the program at the Mayo Clinic. “We were able to integrate our requirements, so the task of setting it up wasn’t onerous.”

“Physicians are embracing the trend,” says Widmer, “but there still isn’t enough data on digital health. This program was very specific to the Mayo Clinic and to what we do. I knew it would be successful because of that. But I don’t have the same level of trust for mainstream apps.”

The Mayo Clinic’s digital health efforts extend beyond cardiac rehabilitation. Doctors there are working on digital health efforts in internal medicine, general health, musculoskeletal, and pediatric care. “The trend is likely to keep expanding,” says Widmer. “Digital certainly has the capability to do a lot, but we’re going to need more data to have widespread implementation.”

Among the many benefits digital medicine confers is the ability to extend the reach of doctors. The Mayo Clinic has a number of satellite offices, and mobile apps allow patients even hundreds of miles away to check in with physicians. This isn’t just a matter of rural areas; even urban areas can be underserved, says Widmer—but increased use of smartphones and better outreach from hospitals is beginning to change that.

More innovations are emerging at the Center for Digital Health Innovation at the University of California, San Francisco. It is “an oasis of agility,” created to spur a range of innovations from sensor development to consumer-facing self-management apps, enterprise technologies that support research and clinical care, and Big Data analytics, according to Aenor Sawyer, M.D., Associate Director of Strategic Relations.

Four large projects underway at the center include: CareWeb, a “Care-team collaborative platform that uses social and mobile communications technology built on Salesforce.com;” Tidepool, which is building the infrastructure for a new generation of smart diabetes apps; Health eHeart, “a clinical trials platform using social media, mobile technology, and novel real-time sensors to revolutionize heart disease;” and Trinity, which provides “precision team care by integrating patient data with multidisciplinary input and evidence” via secure online collaboration for virtual tumor board and case conferences.

“With Health eHeart,” says Sawyer, “we’ve been able to leverage social media, data aggregating platforms, and remote activity and physiologic sensing, to extend the reach of clinical research. Participants can go online, create a profile, provide their history, and update their outcomes. They can also send genomic information back to us through a ‘spit kit.’ It has rapidly increased patient recruitment by magnitudes over traditional methods, at a fraction of the cost.”

For the Health eHeart, which combines a Web-based program with a mobile app, the center partnered with sensor maker AliveCor to offer remote access to electrocardiography; physiological sensor company iHealth; and Ginger.io, which helped create an aggregating dashboard and patient portal.

The center’s CareWeb “is putting into a single secure platform all the ways we communicate as a care team in the hospital—phone, e-mail, voice, text, medical records,” says Sawyer. “There will also be a portal so the patient and designated family can access the information, making them part of the care team.”

Many of these projects ultimately become products, available to other centers and consumers, says Sawyer. “Our frontline innovations undergo extensive evaluation during development and after implementation.” Once we have shown, through proof-of-concept testing, that they are effective in care and cost, I feel we are obligated to get these solutions scaled up and out of the university, into the world to provide greater benefit.”

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A Class Discovery Platform: By Students, for Students http://techonomy.com/2014/07/class-discovery-platform-students/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/class-discovery-platform-students/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:23:52 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17460 Today, you can use an app to hail a cab or to have groceries delivered within an hour, but college students still use outdated academic services for even simple tasks like signing up for classes, arranging college housing, and paying tuition. Frustrated with such outmoded tools, three UC Berkeley undergrads created an intuitive application to solve a central academic challenge for students there (and at most schools): finding the classes that best suit them.

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berkeleytimeToday, you can use an app to hail a cab or to have groceries delivered within an hour, but college students still use outdated academic services for even simple tasks like signing up for classes, arranging college housing, and paying tuition. Frustrated with such outmoded tools, three UC Berkeley undergrads created an intuitive application to solve a central academic challenge for students there (and at most schools): finding the classes that best suit them.

Developed by Yuxin Zhu, Noah Gilmore, and Ashwin Iyengar, Berkeleytime is an interactive website that provides all of the school’s curricular information in one place. Techonomy asked Zhu, a rising senior at UC Berkeley, how the site supplements Berkeley’s current online resources and saves students time and effort in planning their college careers. 

What tools does Berkeleytime give students that they don’t get from the university’s online resources?

The site gives users the unique ability to filter and sort through thousands of classes by requirements, visualize enrollment history and grade distributions, and even see a live campus map of ongoing lectures.

UC Berkeley is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but as undergraduates we found that its online resources were severely lacking. Students have to go through pages and pages of course listings and cross-reference them with two or three other websites before figuring out what those classes are and whether they meet certain requirements.

As freshmen, we were constantly dissatisfied by the fact that we had to waste hours trying to find a class we wanted to take, only to discover that the class wasn’t even offered that semester. Berkeleytime combines all the publicly available data across multiple Berkeley websites and presents accurate and relevant information to students.

Why the name “Berkeleytime?”

“Berkeley time” has been an unofficial rule at UC Berkeley: everything starts 10 minutes later than scheduled so students could always get to classes across campus on time. We wanted to create a service for students that was just as useful as its “10-minute” namesake, and we hope we’ve succeeded.

What kind of adoption has there been on campus? 

Since launching in October 2012, Berkeleytime has seen over 250,000 visits by over 60,000 users. On the first day alone, we had over 1,500 unique visitors, and that number more than tripled by the end of the first month. During periods when students are signing up for classes, we frequently see more than 2,000 visitors a day. In the last 9 months, users have clicked on over a million courses. Perhaps the biggest indication that the site has gained a foothold at the university is seeing fellow students using it during classes.

How do you explain its rapid popularity?

Almost every undergraduate at Berkeley has the problem of spending hours juggling between four to five different websites and still not knowing what to take, so it didn’t take long for students to tell each other about this alternative. We spent a lot of time coming up with a user interface that condenses all the information about courses, requirements, enrollment, and more into something that still looked extremely simple.

The site also allows students to do things that would previously have been almost impossible. For instance, students can find a course that fulfills multiple requirements simultaneously and also fits the times and days they are available. Students can track how quickly classes are enrolling, compare it to the same course in previous semesters, and sign up accordingly. Berkeleytime’s features are very much designed with the undergraduate experience in mind, so it’s not too surprising that a lot of students prefer using it over Berkeley’s official catalog and course listings.

Did you do anything to actively grow Berkeleytime’s user base?

It was mostly word of mouth. Many of the features on Berkeleytime are tailored to the way requirements and courses work at Berkeley, so it fits extremely well to the needs of students. Initially we advertised on social media like Facebook and Twitter, but after a while the growth became very organic. Many upperclassmen and student resources mention Berkeleytime as one of the tools that incoming freshmen can use to plan their classes at Cal.

What kind of challenges did you face developing the website?

When we first started working on the project towards the end of our freshman year, it was safe to say that we had no idea what we were doing. We were still in the midst of our second programming class ever, and finding time to develop such a large website was definitely a learning process far beyond what any course has taught us. We went through many iterations, from our first prototype to the product that users see today. Along the way, we learned countless things about software engineering, Web design, and incorporating feedback from the community.

One of the biggest technical challenges we faced was figuring out a way to intuitively reduce all the information out there into something that’s still digestible. What users see as pretty charts and graphs is in fact a large amount of data, and a lot of thought went into what works and what doesn’t. Since we started working on the project, we’ve also grown as a team and become better friends.

Will Berkeleytime live on after its creators graduate?

Our goal for Berkeleytime is for it to continue to help students discover great new opportunities at Cal. We have received countless emails from current students and alumni saying how much they wished this service had been available earlier. We’re hoping to collaborate with the administration to incorporate the application as an official university resource, so that it may continue to help Berkeley students after we graduate.

 

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Individualized Cancer Treatment Coming—But Only If Underdogs Prevail http://techonomy.com/2014/07/individualized-cancer-treatment-coming-underdogs-prevail/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/individualized-cancer-treatment-coming-underdogs-prevail/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 17:40:33 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17370 Decades ago, “personalized medicine” meant “don’t give penicillin to the person who is fatally allergic to it.” Today, the phrase is shorthand for the ambitious but achievable concept of targeting medications to a specific group of people, based on genetic information, disease progression, biomarkers, and other factors. Still, there’s a small but growing force in the biomedical community that takes the notion of “personalized medicine” much further. For them the term is used literally—they aim for treatment options custom-crafted for the unique snowflakes that we are.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

Decades ago, “personalized medicine” meant “don’t give penicillin to the person who is fatally allergic to it.” Today, the phrase is shorthand for the ambitious but achievable concept of targeting medications to a specific group of people, based on genetic information, disease progression, biomarkers, and other factors. Still, there’s a small but growing force in the biomedical community that takes the notion of “personalized medicine” much further. For them the term is used literally—they aim for treatment options custom-crafted for the unique snowflakes that we are.

The dream of individualized treatment is a non-starter under current economic and regulatory models for drug development. Estimates of how much it costs on average to bring a drug to market—from earliest drug discovery to assembling teams of experts to review pricey clinical trials—range from $1 billion to about $5 billion. It’s expensive in terms of time, too: 10 to 15 years to successfully launch an individual drug. To put that in depressing perspective, the time and money required for each new therapeutic undertaken by a conventional pharmaceutical company is roughly equivalent to what it took to complete the Human Genome Project.

Naturally, people seeking to get away from the blockbuster drugs of big pharma also envision getting away from its intrinsic costs. Veterans of drug development often reply that a new therapeutic costs just as much and takes just as long whether it works for one person or 1 billion people; the cheaper-faster-better mantra hasn’t made a dent in their industry.

Through that lens, attempts to develop custom-tailored medications or treatment plans for a single person may seem quixotic. But if some new approaches prove successful, we all stand to benefit.

Andrew Hessel’s Pink Army Cooperative is a nonprofit biotech organization founded in 2009 to design completely customized, virus-based cancer treatments—and then provide them at no cost, so long as patients agree to share medical data about their experience with the community. Each treatment is based on a sample of that patient’s cancer cells, which are screened against possible therapies to find ones that eradicate cancer but leave healthy cells intact. Hessel spoke at the recent Techonomy Bio conference about his ideas.

Another example is a company called N-of-One (the name is a reference to the number of people in a clinical trial, usually referred to as “n”; an n of 1 means there’s only one person being studied). Launched in 2008 and also focused on cancer, N-of-One works with medical providers and diagnostic companies to deliver custom profiles and interpretations of each patient’s tumor. That information is merged with data about therapies, including those in ongoing clinical trials, to design a tailored treatment plan for the patient.

In hospitals and clinical research institutes, the custom approach has gotten a boost from animals called “avatars.” These organisms are developed to mirror a person’s tumor or disease, to evaluate the effects of treatment options and study disease progression. Fruit flies can be injected with cells from a patient’s tumor and then exposed to various medications to see which ones shrink that tumor. Just a handful of these fly avatars have been made across the globe, but promising results might turn them into a mainstay of personalized medicine. Mice have also been avatars: On a mission to understand his young daughter’s one-of-a-kind syndrome, clinical geneticist Hugh Rienhoff worked with scientists to recreate her particular genetic variant in mice. In addition to helping assess treatment options, these mice can shed light on how Rienhoff’s daughter’s disease may progress in the future.

Even if all of these efforts succeed, though, it remains unclear how regulatory agencies will respond to individualized treatments. Many public health officials have been champions of personalized medicine (check out this recent blog post from the CDC’s director of the Office of Public Health Genomics), but good intentions are unlikely to make for a smooth transition from current requirements. Clinical trials, for instance, are a necessary cornerstone of the FDA’s review process; but therapies for just one person by definition cannot be tested on lots of other people to ensure they’re safe and effective.

There is no doubt that personalized medicine is gaining traction in the biomedical industry—but just how personalized treatments will get, and how soon, remains to be seen. In the meantime, stakeholders around the world should be joining the conversation, lobbying legislators and regulatory agencies to pave the way for individualized treatments, and educating themselves about alternatives to traditional drug development. Only if demand soars, and resources follow, will these upstarts get their big chance.

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Facebook Moves Ahead in Beijing, Line Blocked http://techonomy.com/2014/07/facebook-moves-ahead-beijing-line-blocked/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/facebook-moves-ahead-beijing-line-blocked/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:22:17 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17362 Two of the world’s biggest social networking service (SNS) operators are in the headlines as the new week begins, starting with word that Facebook is moving ahead with its plans to open in China. Meantime, separate reports are saying Japanese-based mobile instant messaging service Line has been disrupted in China, perhaps for carrying sensitive content. These news bits may look different on the surface, but they’re really quite similar in broader terms. China is extremely wary of offshore-based SNS like Facebook, Line, and Twitter, because they are not subject to the country’s strict self-censorship laws.

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(Image via Line)

Two of the world’s biggest social networking service (SNS) operators are in the headlines as the new week begins, starting with word that Facebook is moving ahead with its plans to open in China. Meanwhile, separate reports are saying Japanese-based mobile instant messaging service Line has been disrupted in China, perhaps for carrying sensitive content.

These news bits may look different on the surface, but they’re really quite similar in broader terms. China is extremely wary of offshore-based SNS like Facebook, Line, and Twitter, because they are not subject to the country’s strict self-censorship laws. Thus companies that want to develop a China business must open offices and host their Chinese services on local servers to placate Beijing, which is what Facebook and Line are doing now.

Both Facebook and Line were in the news earlier this year on reports that each was preparing to enter the market despite its big risks. Facebook was the first to make headlines in May when media reported that the company was planning to open a sales office in Beijing, marking its first formal presence in China. A short time later, other media reports said that Line was also preparing to enter China with its flagship mobile instant messaging service that is already popular in Asia with 400 million users.

Now the latest reports are saying that Facebook has found an 800 square meter space in Beijing Central Business District, and signed a 3-year lease for the office. The reports say Facebook has yet to start formally fitting out the space, though its large size indicates it could potentially become home to several hundred workers.

This particular move is relatively incremental, since Facebook had hinted at the opening of a Beijing office at the time of the earlier reports. At that time, I said that staff in the new office would almost certainly focus on sales in the beginning, but that the company would also start exploring the launch of a China-based site as well.

Facebook’s and Twitter’s global sites have been blocked in China since 2009, presumably because they were hosting content considered objectionable by Beijing.  Facebook has said all along that it wants to have an SNS site in China, and the renting of such a large office space indicates it has long-term plans to open a locally-based service for the market. I might even accelerate my previous prediction and say this latest move shows the company could launch a China site within the next 2 years.

Meantime, let’s look at Line, which has hit its first official roadblock in China following its recent steady steps to enter the market. Line was just one of several major services that were reportedly blocked in China last week, prompting widespread complaints among Chinese users. Other services that were blocked included Yahoo’s photo-sharing Flickr service, and Microsoft’s OneDrive file storage service.

China never comments when such disruptions occur, though observers are always more than happy to guess what might be the reason for these periodic blockages. In this case, media speculated the move might be related to a major demonstration that was planned in Hong Kong on July 1 to call for democratic elections the next time a new leader is chosen for the former British colony.

I suspect the disruptions will be temporary, though there’s always the chance the blockage could become permanent like it was with Facebook and Twitter in 2009. That could bring greater urgency for Line to speed up its China plans, which could see it launch a China-based service that would be separate from its global service and subject to Chinese self-censorship laws, by the end of this year.

Doug Young lives in Shanghai and writes opinion pieces about tech investment in China for Techonomy and at www.youngchinabiz.com. He is the author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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Dutch Surgeon Successfully Implants 3D-Printed Skull http://techonomy.com/2014/07/dutch-surgeon-successfully-implants-3d-printed-skull/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/dutch-surgeon-successfully-implants-3d-printed-skull/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:36:52 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17358 3D printing has gained popularity as the cool do-it-yourself way to manufacture your own art pieces, knickknacks, and playthings. But the technology is capable of so much more—printing everything from food to housing to combat supplies—and it's recently been making big strides in the world of medicine, too. This past spring, Dutch brain surgeon Dr. Bon Verweij achieved a medical breakthrough when he performed the first operation using a 3D-printed skull. Read more at UMC Utrecht

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3D printing has gained popularity as the cool do-it-yourself way to manufacture your own art pieces, knickknacks, and playthings. But the technology is capable of so much more—printing everything from food to housing to combat supplies—and it’s recently been making big strides in the world of medicine, too.
 
This past spring, Dutch brain surgeon Dr. Bon Verweij achieved a medical breakthrough when he performed the first operation using a 3D-printed skull. Verweij, a doctor at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, successfully replaced a woman’s natural skull with a plastic one, relieving the pressure put on her brain from a condition that had thickened her bone structure and eventually caused her to lose vision. Within just a few months with the new 3D-printed plastic skull, the woman made a full recovery.
 
Research on other 3D-printed medical materials, including organs and devices, is also advancing. For example, companies like mirOculus, whose co-founder Jorge Soto spoke at our June Techonomy Bio conference, are using 3D printing to build state-of-the-art lab machinery on the cheap. In a quest to diagnose cancer earlier, Soto said, mirOculus 3D prints an inexpensive Arduino-based device that uses chemical reactions to identify certain microRNA patterns that might indicate disease.
Read more at UMC Utrecht

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Former Intelligence Chief McConnell on Digital Vulnerability http://techonomy.com/2014/07/former-intelligence-chief-mcconnell-digital-vulnerability/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/former-intelligence-chief-mcconnell-digital-vulnerability/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 17:02:09 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17338 The shift from analog to digital trade means global commerce is increasingly vulnerable to digital attack, says former National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell. McConnell, now with Booz Allen Hamilton, is concerned that cyber attack tools—which nation states are building by the thousands in the name of mutual deterrence—will get into the hands of extremist or terrorist groups. At our recent Data Security Lab, Techonomy's David Kirkpatrick spoke with McConnell about how the digital revolution is transforming security and intelligence.

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The shift from analog to digital trade means global commerce is increasingly vulnerable to digital attack, says former National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell. McConnell, now with Booz Allen Hamilton, is concerned that cyber attack tools—which nation states are building by the thousands in the name of mutual deterrence—will get into the hands of extremist or terrorist groups. At our recent Data Security Lab, Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick spoke with McConnell about how the digital revolution is transforming security and intelligence.

To watch part two of this interview, click here.

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Ex-Intelligence Chief McConnell Fears Major Cyber Attack http://techonomy.com/2014/07/ex-intelligence-chief-mcconnell-fears-major-cyber-attack/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/ex-intelligence-chief-mcconnell-fears-major-cyber-attack/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:59:01 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17344 Former National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell (now at Booz Allen Hamilton) notes in this interview at Techonomy's recent Data Security Lab that our democracy has traditionally made decisions and developed legislation in reaction to events. That is unwise now, though, he says, if we wait until a major cyber event before imposing regulations to demand good cyber practices from business. Sadly, though, he suspects that we won't act until such an event happens.

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Former National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell (now at Booz Allen Hamilton) notes in this interview at Techonomy’s recent Data Security Lab that our democracy has traditionally made decisions and developed legislation in reaction to events. That is unwise now, though, he says, if we wait until a major cyber event before imposing regulations to demand good cyber practices from business. Sadly, though, he suspects that we won’t act until such an event happens. But McConnell told Techonomy CEO David Kirkpatrick at our recent Data Security Lab that a cyber attack on American infrastructure like the utility grid in the heat of summer or the cold of winter could be devastating to people and to our economy. Nonetheless, he expects industry’s knee-jerk response will be to resist regulation that could prevent such a disaster.

To watch part one of this interview, click here.

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Kiva’s Julie Hanna on Tech as a Democratizing Force http://techonomy.com/2014/07/kivas-julie-hanna-tech-democratizing-force/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/kivas-julie-hanna-tech-democratizing-force/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:50:07 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17340 Is technology the most democratizing force mankind has ever seen? That's how technologist and serial entrepreneur Julie Hanna sees it. We spoke with Hanna at a recent Techonomy dinner salon in San Francisco. She asserted that tech tools have leveled the playing field and "enabled globally fair access on a mass scale." But she says there's a lot more to do about what she calls "the global opportunity crisis we face, where half the planet's population is living on less than $2 a day."

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Is technology the most democratizing force mankind has ever seen? That’s how technologist and serial entrepreneur Julie Hanna sees it. We spoke with Hanna at a recent Techonomy dinner salon in San Francisco. She asserted that tech tools have leveled the playing field and “enabled globally fair access on a mass scale.” But she says there’s a lot more to do about what she calls “the global opportunity crisis we face, where half the planet’s population is living on less than $2 a day.” Hanna chairs the board of Kiva, which gives entrepreneurs in poor countries capital through peer-to-peer lending. Through the Kiva platform, which was launched in 2005, nearly 1.5 million entrepreneurs in over 75 countries have received over half a billion dollars in loans, according to Hanna. What’s more, 99 percent of those loans have been repaid. Hanna believes that mobile tech will give lending platforms like Kiva an even greater global reach by creating “a level of directness and a disintermediation we’ve never seen before.”

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Techonomy and EMC Look at the State of Data Security http://techonomy.com/2014/07/techonomy-emc-look-state-data-security/ http://techonomy.com/2014/07/techonomy-emc-look-state-data-security/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 18:15:23 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17325 At our March 19 Data Security Lab, sponsored by EMC, Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick spoke with RSA’s Art Coviello and former National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell (now at Booz Allen Hamilton) about emerging cybertrends. Coviello and McConnell kicked off the discussion by sharing their thoughts about why companies are increasingly at risk, and what they can do to deter cyberthreats.

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At our March 19 Data Security Lab, sponsored by EMC, Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick spoke with RSA’s Art Coviello and former National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell (now at Booz Allen Hamilton) about emerging cybertrends. Coviello and McConnell kicked off the discussion by sharing their thoughts about why companies are increasingly at risk, and what they can do to deter cyberthreats.

“We have become digitally dependent,” said McConnell. “Whether you are a criminal, nation state, or someone who wants to change the world order, there is great opportunity to go after, to either steal the information or devalue or degrade or restore the information for some purpose.” Coviello concurred that the proliferation of Web, mobile, and big-data applications is increasing everyone’s risk profile. “The attack surface has increased monumentally in the last six or seven years. Think about trying to defend a perimeter that is one mile around. Now expand it to five hundred miles with the same old-fashioned tools.” For companies to turn the tide, McConnell and Coviello believe a shift in thinking must take place among C-level executives and boards of directors.

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Top Tweets from Techonomy Bio http://techonomy.com/2014/06/top-tweets-techonomy-bio/ http://techonomy.com/2014/06/top-tweets-techonomy-bio/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 21:25:39 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17312 [View the story "Top Tweets from Techonomy Bio" on Storify]

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Alibaba Picks NYSE, Plays with Yahoo, Football http://techonomy.com/2014/06/alibaba-picks-nyse-plays-yahoo-football/ http://techonomy.com/2014/06/alibaba-picks-nyse-plays-yahoo-football/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 15:37:40 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17307 It’s been two weeks since I’ve written a post exclusively about leading e-commerce company Alibaba, so I thought I’d end the week with a round-up of a few company news bits including its selection of the New York Stock Exchange for its highly-anticipated IPO. In related news, the company’s major shareholder Yahoo is reportedly in talks to reduce its planned sale of Alibaba shares in the offering. Last but not least, Alibaba has formally added its name to one of its latest acquisitions, a stake in one of China’s leading soccer clubs.

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alibabaIt’s been two weeks since I’ve written a post exclusively about leading e-commerce company Alibaba, so I thought I’d end the week with a round-up of a few company news bits including its selection of the New York Stock Exchange for its highly-anticipated IPO. In related news, the company’s major shareholder Yahoo is reportedly in talks to reduce its planned sale of Alibaba shares in the offering. Last but not least, Alibaba has formally added its name to one of its latest acquisitions, a stake in one of China’s leading soccer clubs.

None of these news bits is particularly big, but I do feel a need to write something about this company that will make one of the biggest Internet IPOs in history, most likely in July or August. The company could raise up to $20 billion, which would eclipse the previous biggest Internet IPO that came when Facebook raised $16 billion two years ago. Alibaba is likely to get a market value of up to $170 billion from the listing, which is why everyone is trying to get a piece of the action.

Both of New York’s main stock exchanges were aggressively courting the company, following its decision early this year to abandon its preference for a listing in Hong Kong. Now we’re learning that the NYSE has officially won the deal. The decision was disclosed in Alibaba’s latest IPO filing, which added that the stock will trade under the ticker BABA.

The NYSE’s victory isn’t too surprising, as it has aggressively courted Chinese tech companies for much of the last few years. Many of China’s earliest tech firms to list in New York went to the Nasdaq, including leading web portal Sina and top search engine Baidu. But of the more than a dozen companies to list since the fourth quarter of last year, the split between the NYSE and Nasdaq has been about 50-50. The win is obviously a big one for the NYSE, which is trying to rival the Nasdaq as a place for high-tech companies with big growth potential.

Alibaba may have been talking publicly about its decision to list on the NYSE, but it’s also reportedly talking behind the scenes with Yahoo, which will sell a big chunk of its stake in Alibaba during the IPO. Yahoo was once Alibaba’s largest single shareholder after buying 40 percent of the company in 2005. But Yahoo sold a big piece of its stake in 2012 and now holds about 24 percent.  Yahoo was planning to further sell down its stake during the IPO, providing most or all of the shares to be sold during the public offering.

Yahoo had previously planned to sell about half of its remaining stake, but media reported late last year that it changed its mind and wanted to sell a smaller amount. Now the latest reports are saying that Yahoo is talking with Alibaba as it seeks to renegotiate the size of its actual stake sale during the IPO. If Alibaba agrees, it could reduce the size of the offering to the $10-$15 billion range. Perhaps that’s what Alibaba would like, since a reduced offering could create excitement due to a smaller number of shares for sale.

Lastly let’s look quickly at reports that say Alibaba has decided to add its Taobao name to one of China’s top soccer teams, after the company agreed last month to purchase up to half of the Guangzhou club for up to $190 million. Thus the team will now become Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao in the next season.

Probably the most interesting thing about this news is Alibaba’s choice of which of its brands to use, since it could have picked a number of other titles, including its Alibaba name or Tmall, the name of its leading B2C online shopping mall. The choice of Taobao indicates that Alibaba perhaps feels it faces the biggest potential competition for the C2C e-commerce site, which is facing a new assault from a partnership between archrivals JD.com and Tencent.

Doug Young lives in Shanghai and writes opinion pieces about tech investment in China for Techonomy and at www.youngchinabiz.com. He is the author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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What We Learned at Techonomy Bio http://techonomy.com/2014/06/learned-techonomy-bio/ http://techonomy.com/2014/06/learned-techonomy-bio/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 11:17:40 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=17298 Techonomy's offices on Manhattan's West 22d Street have been buzzing ever since our half-day Techonomy Bio conference on June 17. We got an overwhelmingly positive reception for a meeting that brought leading researchers and experts in the life sciences together with IT and Internet thinkers and business generalists. Drew Endy, a Stanford professor who is one of the world's leaders in synthetic biology, on stage called the event "awesome" and said he had never seen such a collection of people in one place. "People in other sectors of technology simply don’t know very much about biology and biology’s economic impact," he said.

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From left, David Kirkpatrick, Floyd Romesberg, Stewart Brand, Jim Flatt, and Steve Levine

From left, David Kirkpatrick, Floyd Romesberg, Stewart Brand, Jim Flatt, and Steve Levine

Techonomy’s offices on Manhattan’s West 22d Street have been buzzing ever since our half-day Techonomy Bio conference on June 17. We got an overwhelmingly positive reception for a meeting that brought leading researchers and experts in the life sciences together with IT and Internet thinkers and business generalists.

Drew Endy, a Stanford professor who is one of the world’s leaders in synthetic biology, on stage called the event “awesome” and said he had never seen such a collection of people in one place. “People in other sectors of technology simply don’t know very much about biology and biology’s economic impact,” he continued. And like literally every expert at the event, he was supremely optimistic about the future potential of life sciences for society: “The biotech that exists right now is sort of the snowflake on the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to make.” Endy is a passionate advocate of open-source access to biological discoveries and tools to further accelerate progress by widening the community of researchers and innovators beyond just big companies.

Synthetic biology was a centerpiece of the conference, which aimed particularly to examine how progress in IT was stimulating an acceleration in biological discovery. Andrew Hessel of software-maker Autodesk crisply defined synthetic biology, calling it “genetic engineering done with digital tools.” He added: “This makes it faster, cheaper, and easier to do.” Hessel wants to use the plummeting cost of DNA sequencing—another central technology in our discussions—to enable individually-customized cancer drugs. He explained how it could happen soon.

Stewart Brand, whose ties to the IT industry go back so far he actually invented the term “personal computer,” had spoken at previous Techonomy events and his enthusiasm for biology helped convince us to plunge in despite not being experts. And on the closing panel he talked about how progress here was both like and unlike what we’ve seen with computing and the Internet. “These self-accelerating technologies, if they keep doing it decade after decade, change everything,” he said. “We saw it with communication technology, with digital code. So now we’re looking at bio code.” But he added that since digital technology is all human-engineered, it is in many ways easier to work with. “Biological code,” as he put it, on the other hand, is completely unengineered, making it intrinsically more challenging to work with: “It’s kludges and patches all the way down.” But he echoed Endy in concluding, “This should be an extremely interesting century.” One indisputably interesting thing, if a controversial one, is the effort he and his wife Ryan Phelan, also on the program, are pursuing to revive extinct species and bolster endangered ones.

An informed, engaged audience was part of the success of Techonomy Bio.

An informed, engaged audience was part of the success of Techonomy Bio.

Floyd Romesberg of The Scripps Institute explained his recently-published breakthrough work creating a partly-artificial E. coli that was able to replicate itself. He added two synthetic new “letters” to the bacteria’s four basic “letters” of DNA code. “All life as far back as we can see, to the last common ancestor of all life on earth, had a four-letter base pair of G, C, A, and T. That’s how it encoded information,” he explained. “There was this possibility that maybe GC and AT were the only solutions possible. What we’ve shown in my lab is that’s not at all true. It tells you that evolution, that life, is a lot more plastic maybe than we thought.” It just further showed how much innovation is possible in future. “We are just scratching the surface,” Romesberg said.

The worries on stage generally were of two types. The first was that public fears about something most people understand so little posed the threat of significantly slowing progress. Said Jim Flatt, who heads Genovia Bio, which is using algae-based systems to develop fuels, food, and agricultural chemicals: “The industry collectively has not done as good a job as it can to communicate the benefits from a societal perspective, whether it’s genetically modified crops or what have you. Why should a consumer care?” Nancy J. Kelley, a longtime biology activist and founding director of the New York Genome Center, noted that we have just seen calls for labeling and regulatory review of an engineered ingredient in laundry detergent that was specifically designed to replace palm oil. The use of palm oil is widely blamed for massive destruction of Southeast Asian rain forests, so replacing it is urgent. “The opposition is educating the public and we just can’t let that happen,” she said. Ellen Jorgenson, director of Genspace, a Brooklyn citizen science laboratory, said that kind of education is a key part of her mission: “I see this huge gap between the general public and scientists, and I am more and more drawn to bridging that gap.”

The other, equally pressing concern was also expressed eloquently by Kelley. “What is at stake here is the future competitive advantage between countries,” she said, adding, “The United States, despite its early entry into this area, currently lacks a coordinated, integrated and strategic approach to leadership on a global level.”

But Kelley also extolled the varied potential of synthetic biology outside of medicine. Aside from replacing palm oil, she sees the potential to help feed a planet whose food supply is not growing proportionately to its population. “We need higher-yield crops, that can be grown in areas where there’s not a lot of water and are pest-resistant,” she explained. She also noted that a key tool for remediating the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a genetically-engineered microorganism that turned soy products into biodisperants.

While some are concerned that investors in leading-edge tech remain overly attracted to the next hot smartphone app and not enough to society-altering bio-projects, investors onstage at Techonomy Bio were optimistic and said they were still writing checks. “Some of the best ideas are coming from non-traditional entrepreneurs,” said Beth Seidenberg of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. And Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, another major venture capital firm, said, “We’re sitting on a can of miracles, and no one seems to know about it.” Both were mobbed when they got offstage by some of the many entrepreneurs in the audience.

There were plenty more amazing speakers at Techonomy Bio and I urge you to browse through our site to watch their videos or read the transcripts and articles. Not being experts may have been what enabled us to take a new angle on the topic. We created an event to help us learn something for ourselves, and it turned out to be useful for many. So next year we’re already planning a longer, more ambitious Techonomy Bio in Silicon Valley, probably in April or May 2015.

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