Healthcare

A Health Insurance Company That Looks Like a Tech Startup

(Image via Shutterstock)

Imagine a future in which people are as loyal to the brand that provides their health insurance as they are to the one that makes their favorite tech gadget, search engine, or social media platform. If $30 million from Peter Thiel's Founders Fund and a team of ex-Facebook, Google, Spotify, and Tumblr engineers succeed, the old guard of health insurance companies will have to step up the innovation and tech quotient to compete. New York Magazine this week describes Oscar, the year-old Soho-based "tech-driven” health insurance company founded by three Harvard Business School buddies, as a serious threat to the status quo, with a "faster and more efficient infrastructure" than any of the big insurers offer.   More

Learning

Audible CEO Katz on Why Audiobooks Boost Literacy

Donald Katz, founder and CEO of audiobook pioneer Audible, can go on at length about why listening to books is a virtue for readers and society. That's not surprising, since his company (now owned by Amazon) effectively created the mass listening phenomenon, and dominates it in the U.S. Katz says that by listening to literature, “a lot of people who just don’t have enough time to read now effectively read and ingest beautifully-arranged words.” We spoke with him at the recent Venture for America Summer Celebration in NYC. He argues that audiobooks aren’t just a supplement for adults who are short on time. “A lot of kids are turned on to reading itself or the concept of long, immersive experiences” through audiobooks, he said.   More

E-Commerce Government

Can a Sharing Platform for Artists Point to a More Equitable Society?

What do you do if you’re an artist in need of supplies, but you happen to be broke? Creative people have been pooling and exchanging resources for generations. Now, the emerging Internet-enabled sharing economy makes it easier than ever to swap, say, legal advice for lumber. That’s the kind of transaction that OurGoods, a new resource-sharing platform for artists, actually facilitates. OurGoods also serves “designers, technologists, makers, farmers, and activists,” said co-founder and activist Caroline Woolard when we talked to her at the recent Sharing Economy Summit at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “Artists have a lot of skills and also education, but don’t necessarily have money to pay each other to get their work done,” said Woolard. But OurGoods doesn’t just aim for one-off online bartering. Its greater goal is to build what Woolard calls “cross-class trust networks” that “enable a kind of trust-building that leads to social justice.”   More

E-Commerce

Want to Donate Your Old Sofa to Charity? There’s an App for That

The sharing economy is rooted in the idea that at any given moment, the things that people own—their tools, their cars, and sometimes even their homes—are sitting idle, ready to be used by someone who needs them. The Internet is a natural marketplace for matching these assets with consumers, in many cases providing a revenue stream for the owners who sell or rent them. For those motivated more by giving than by profit, now there’s a platform for selling their unwanted stuff and seamlessly donating the proceeds to charity. By streamlining charitable donations, WebThriftStore provides an essential service for non-profits, which often don’t have the infrastructure to process in-kind donations, let alone the resources to run a physical store.   More

E-Commerce

Writing the Rules of the Sharing Economy

NYU Professor Arun Sundararajan kicks off the Collaborative, Peer, and Sharing Economy Summit at NYU's Stern School of Business. (Photo:  Annabelle Ladao/PFNYC)

The sharing economy has been called the next big disruptor. But is it disrupting enough? Fast enough? Broadly enough? The answers depend on whom you ask. As sharing expands into more industries and infiltrates more cities, it’s hard to keep up with the changes and understand whether they amount to progress. “We should be looking forward and asking ourselves, ‘What kind of future do we want to create?’” said Airbnb Co-founder and CTO Nathan Blecharczyk at the Collaborative, Peer, and Sharing Economy Summit at New York University last week. The summit sought to take a big-picture look at the much-hyped sharing economy, examining not only what it is, but also its effects, the platforms and institutions powering it, and the regulatory questions it’s raising.   More

Analytics & Data Bio & Life Sciences

Who Owns Your Genetic Data? Hint: It’s Probably Not You

(Image via Shutterstock)

As we move closer to an era when a sequence of every human genome is the norm, an important question looms: who will own this data? It seems intuitive to many of us that each person owns his or her genetic data and therefore should control access. But the reality is more complex. The concept of data ownership is so contentious in part because of its nature. Data moves, it morphs, and most of us can’t even say where it lives. (“The cloud” is not an answer.) For people who grew up thinking that possession is nine-tenths of the law, data is too slippery to fit into the usual framework.   More

Energy & Green Tech

Harnessing the Power of Algae

algae-battery-energy

A California researcher is working to create a new type of battery, powered not by lithium, alkaline, or lead-acid, but by ... algae? Yes, reports TechCrunch, algae batteries, which charge faster and for longer than their traditional counterparts, have the capacity to power a smartphone, a tablet, and even a Tesla. Research has already shown the power of algae, but Adam Freeman, founder of alGAS, says he's about to create the first algae battery that could power a car--with a charge 200 times greater than current lithium-based batteries can provide, and for a fraction of the price. "Think of driving your car on a living battery that charges in seconds with a battery that costs almost nothing and is actually good for the environment," Freeman told TechCrunch.   More

Arts & Culture Bio & Life Sciences

How Nanotech Flower Design Informs the Future of Materials Science

You might not think that a guy who says he spends his day getting lost "in a microworld of flowers or corals that you made yourself" is making a major contribution to science. But Wim L. Noorduin, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, is combining chemicals in a beaker to grow and shape crystalline structures that demonstrate how complex shapes evolve in nature. His micron-sized sculptures appear as intricate cake decorations, vast fields of blooming flowers, and coral reefs when viewed under an electron microscope. The artistic beauty of Noorduin's work won him a place on the cover of Science last year. And this week The Creators Project, a partnership between Intel and VICE that celebrates the innovative use of technology "to push the boundaries of creative expression," released a short video about the project.   More

Global Tech

Satellites Will Power Google’s Latest Moonshot Project

google-internet-satellite

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only tech titan aiming to make the Net truly global. Google’s ambition to help bring Internet access to everyone in the world may soon be taking form. The search giant reportedly plans to invest over $1 billion in 180 satellites that “could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The satellite investment is part of Google’s latest moonshot project to deliver broadband service to under-developed areas—an effort that also includes Project Loon, which aims to beam Web access via high-altitude balloons, and the recent acquisition of Titan Aerospace, which will presumably enable drones to transmit broadband signals.   More

Learning

Techno-skeptic Andrew Keen on the Failures of American Universities

“Universities are two or three hundred years behind the curve,” said writer and entrepreneur Andrew Keen (without any evident irony) when we spoke with him at the recent DLDnyc conference. Despite a technologized economy “rushing at about a million miles an hour,” Keen believes our institutions of higher education still “move with glacial speed.” But he doesn’t think that keeping up with technology will necessarily solve this problem. While the “Digital Vertigo” author is a confirmed techno-skeptic, he recognizes that the failures of higher education in America are not necessarily caused by the misuse of technology. Rather, he believes universities are suffering from a deeper cultural and intellectual malaise.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

Graduating from GMOs, Can Regulators Keep Up with Syn Bio?

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The synthetic biology product floodgates are opening, and U.S. environmental, health, and safety regulators are at risk of drowning. That's the general sentiment expressed in a report released this week by policy researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute, the University of Virginia, and EMBO in Heidelberg. They detail how the increased use of more sophisticated synthetic biology technologies to engineer plants and microbes will present major challenges to government agencies including EPA, FDA, and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that have oversight of syn-bio-derived products.   More

Arts & Culture

Kirkpatrick: Apple Acquisition of Beats a Smart Move

Much has been made of Apple's $3 billion decision to buy Beats, and whether it displays savvy and foresight, or something closer to desperation. Some say Apple is smart to be using its vast resources to infuse the company with fresh talent and a renewed sense of "cool." Others wonder if Apple hasn't gone off the deep end. Techonomy's David Kirkpatrick appeared on Bloomberg Surveillance Thursday to talk about Apple's acquisition, calling it a "smart move" that puts the company in position to broaden its market share. In buying Beats, Kirkpatrick said, Apple will increase its appeal among young people—by way of both Beats' iconic headphones and the "good intellectual DNA" of its co-founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.   More

Security & Privacy

Tech-enhanced Rescue Dogs Lend a Paw to Disaster Relief

(Photo: Alper Bozkurt, NC State University)

Superdog to the rescue! It may sound like comic book fodder, but we're about to see Krypto in real life, as our canine friends, outfitted in high-tech gear, prepare to join the front lines of disaster response. Led by a team from North Carolina State University, the smart-response dog initiative is part of a larger effort to smarten up our currently outdated disaster relief infrastructure.   More

Bio & Life Sciences

The Coming Era of Personal Genomics

Image via Shutterstock

If the idea of having everyone’s genome sequenced at birth brings images to your mind from "Blade Runner" or "Gattaca," you’re not alone. The tremendous potential of understanding and using genomic information from birth to death suggests motives both beneficent and nefarious. This path is quite realistic, given the galloping state of modern genomic science. That’s one reason genomics will loom large at our upcoming Techonomy Bio conference in Mountain View, Calif., on June 17. In this article we conduct a Techonomy thought exercise: envisioning a world in which everyone has his or her genome sequenced at birth (or, in some cases, even earlier).   More

Global Tech Security & Privacy

China Targets IBM in Foreign Tech Crackdown

IBM

The latest reports that Beijing is pressuring Chinese banks to stop using high-end servers from computing giant IBM don’t come as a huge surprise, amid escalating tensions between China and the U.S. over cyber spying. This particular development is just the latest in a series of similar moves that dates back to last year, when Beijing began quietly pressuring many big state-run firms to stop using U.S. tech products following revelations from the Edward Snowden cyber-spying scandal. The ironic element of Beijing’s anti-foreign tech campaign is that it could actually make the nation’s technology networks and systems even more vulnerable to spying, since most domestic products are far less sophisticated than their foreign counterparts.   More

Arts & Culture

Making Art with Brainscans and 3D Printers

Figure D:
MRI Butterfly (I), 2008
Inkjet print on watercolor paper
13" x 19"

Suzanne Anker finds beauty and meaning at the borderlines of science. This visual artist and sculptor talks about “the way in which visual art and the biological sciences in­tersect because of technology.” She is conversant in the languages of all of them. Anker often takes inspiration from the ways biological information is depicted. Her tools may also come from technological realms. She's been making sculpture with 3D printers for twelve years, since long before the technology became trendy.   More

Healthcare

Wisconsin Software Company Wants to Revolutionize Healthcare Payments

Aver-Informatics

Aver Informatics has raised $6.5 million from venture capital firms Drive Capital and GE Ventures to put an end to confusing healthcare payments, which for many patients deliver a dose of sticker shock in the form of a bewildering bundle of bills. As reported by TechCrunch, these billing procedures are even confusing to providers, and exacerbate the waste and inefficiency of the healthcare sector. Healthcare spending in the U.S. is expected to make up an astounding 25 percent of the economy by 2022.   More

Government

Salesforce.com’s Michael Lazerow on the Transparency Revolution

We are in the midst of "a trust revolution," says Michael Lazerow, "where everything is transparent." This revolution in transparency is redefining the rules of business, government, and beyond, as all of us are being forced to act more responsibly and with greater authenticity. Lazerow, CMO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud and founder of Buddy Media (purchased by Salesforce in 2012), talked with Techonomy at the recent DLDnyc conference. He explained how tech fuels transparency in an age where everything is interconnected.   More

E-Commerce Finance

Bitcoin Backers Work to Make It Mainstream

bitcoin

When Bitcoin emerged five years ago, it was the payment system many geeks and enthusiasts had dreamed of: an international, decentralized, anonymous, and transparent virtual currency that could potentially replace inefficient traditional ones. But even though Bitcoin remains very far from mainstream adoption, a new chapter just possibly may be dawning for the controversial currency. Up until now, the cryptocurrency has been way too complex for most people to comprehend (feel free to explain to your family concepts like "blockchain," "exchanges," and "mining"). It has been tied to illegal activity. The prominent Japan-based Bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox notoriously imploded, destroying many traders' holdings. Perhaps worst of all, its value spikes and plummets regularly.   More

Business

Dorsey’s First Square Scribbles

This Dorsey drawing from February 2009 illustrates how the smartphone interface might reflect a payment, as a user swipes a card, confirms a purchase, and signs.

In February 2009 Jack Dorsey had recently departed from Twitter, which he co-founded. When his longtime friend Jim McKelvey, a glass blower from St. Louis, lost out on the sale of a $2,000 piece because he was unable to accept credit cards, together they realized that their powerful smartphone devices should be able to process credit cards. So Jack sat down in his apartment with engineer Tristan O’Tierney and drew a series of rough sketches to show how a smartphone credit card app might work. Over that year, he continued elaborating his vision with more drawings.   More