AI’s Transition Problem


Photo by James Fitzgerald on Unsplash

Recent successes in deploying AI point to a crucial challenge the field is facing

I read Martin Wolf’s wonderful essay about the challenges facing government in the light of significant labour displacements. Last week there were two relevant, but distinct, announcements from Babylon Health and OpenAI. I aimed to connect the dots between these in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter Exponential View. (Read the issue | Subscribe)

First, Babylon: the company announced that their AI-based chatbot had performed better than the typical British GP (a GP is a generalist physician rather than a specialist) on the qualifying exams run by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Babylon’s bot scored 81% on a test where humans averaged 72%, although there are some methodology issues. You can read a news story here, and the research paper, which I’ve skimmed, here.

The Royal College of General Practitioners responds with two key points: one silly, the other less so.

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Breast Cancer Nearly Took My Life. Instead, it Made Me a Better CEO.


Here’s How.

On September 5, 2015 I discovered a tumor in my left armpit. Two days later, I was diagnosed with Stage II HER2 Positive Breast Cancer. I was 41.

I was also the founder and CEO of a tech startup that was less than two years old.

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This Company Raised Wages to $16 an Hour. Two Years Later, What Happened?


NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Aetna President Karen Lynch runs 95 percent of the company’s core businesses. Since her firm’s novel move, productivity is up 15 percent. Next up? An industry shifting merger with CVS.

Karen Lynch during NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Given NewCo Shift Forum’s theme of “Business Must Lead,” it was a pleasure to welcome Karen Lynch, President of healthcare industry leader Aetna to the Forum stage earlier this year. Lynch discusses her company’s decision to raise minimum wages for thousands of its employees, an “ecosystem” approach to the healthcare business, and the role companies must now play in social issues beyond their core stakeholders. Read the full transcript below, or watch the interview, conducted by Makers and Takers author Rana Foroohar.

John Battelle: Please join me in welcoming my friend, Rana Foroohar, who has written extraordinary book about the financialization of the economy in conversation with the president of Aetna, Karen Lynch. Welcome to “Shift Forum.”

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Can Mission Trump Earnings?


NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Bill Anderson, CEO of Genetech, on the role of the corporation in the competitive, cutthroat business of drug discovery

While much of this year’s Shift Forum focused on the ever-expanding intersection of technology and politics, investigating the shifting role of business in society also requires we talk about established businesses, in particular those who might teach us lessons we can apply to today’s most pressing issues. In the interview below, the New York Times’ Corner Office columnist David Gelles speaks with Bill Anderson, CEO of life sciences giant Genentech.

John Battelle: We’re here. We’re in San Francisco. We’re in the Valley. We’re in the center of technology. Yes, we’ve heard from a lot of people in tech.

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All We Have Yet To Understand


A tech giant partners with a bioinformatics pioneer to create an entirely new kind of genetic map.

T cells attack a cancer cell.

I believe that all reality is information, and all information creates reality. I am not alone in this belief, but it is nevertheless controversial. Regardless, around this maddening thesis revolves nearly all the intractable problems, paradoxes, and opportunities of modern science, technology, and quite possibly policy and politics. The more we informatize the physical world, the more we can ply its unknown depths.

But there’s so much of it, this information. The recursive joke of an acroamatic god — we understand that information drives everything, but there’s simply too much information to understand. Start with our very minds — comprised of 100 billion neurons connected in no less than 100 trillion paths. Each synaptic firing across one of those hundred-trillion possibilities comprises an informational declaration — and each neuron may fire up to two hundred times a second. Don’t ask me how much potential information that is — I can’t do the damn math.

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A Call for Humanitarian Robotics


Robotics will drive untold benefits for humanity. But as we pursue the future, we can’t forget our very real present needs

Robotics are beginning to transform a broad spectrum of industries. But what’s far more exciting is the potential for robotics and AI to drive innovation that alleviates human suffering of many kinds, both directly and indirectly. While we’re excited about the application to autonomous vehicles or manufacturing, what’s potentially more inspiring is the opportunity to scale and dramatically improve disaster relief efforts.

Humanitarian efforts, the world over, will be greatly advanced by the development of these emerging technologies. While we focus on conquering the impossible and transforming the way things work, it is also our imperative to capitalize on the opportunity to create a better society.

First Things First

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We’re Building A New Consumption Model. And It Starts At The Beginning: Babies.


Babies and children are most vulnerable to our current consumption model. They’re also the key to building a better one.

UpChoose picture

In my previous post, I explained why our consumption model is broken, and how we can build a new one. If you haven’t read it, here’s a quick summary (or watch the short video below):

  1. Our consumption model is hurting our environment, our physical and mental health. We’re over-using natural resources, exposing children to toxic products, and creating too much waste. This is unsustainable.
  2. A big part of the problem is ingrained in the fabric of our lifestyle. The changes needed go beyond what products we choose. We need to redesign our behaviors: Why and how we consume.
  3. We can evolve to a new, higher form of consumption. When we do that, we create endless opportunities to re-imagine and improve our lives.

Re-Designing Consumption

We have to come up with new ways to provide everyday products and services. These new ways should solve the challenges we face:

  • To reduce overconsumption → help us understand what we really need.
  • To avoid toxic products → ensure the highest sustainability standard.
  • To limit waste → offer after-use options such as take-back or re-sell.
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Our Consumption Model Is Broken. Here’s How To Build A New One.


Imagining a better consumption model is key to a good future.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

On August 2, 2017, we started using more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year. Every natural resource we used from that day onward resulted in “ecological overspending.” Think of it as your bank account. For the first 7 months of the year, you lived on your regular salary. After that, you started using your savings and increasing your credit card debt. Currently, humanity lives at credit and consumes resources equal to that of 1.7 planets a year. That’s compared to 1.4 a decade ago and 0.8 in 1963. If population and consumption trends continue, this figure will rise to 2 planets by 2030. This puts us — and our children — on an unsustainable path.

The Climate Crisis Is Embedded in Our Consumerist Culture

This ecological overspending contributes to the warming of our planet. It accelerated in the past 35 years — 2016 was the hottest year since record-keeping began. Most scientists agree that the leading cause of the warming is human pollution. The burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of forests are the main contributors. Clean energy and protecting our forests are critical parts of the solution. But we must look at the challenge in a more holistic manner. The climate crisis is rooted in our modern lifestyle, and in the economic model that supports it.

A recent study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology looked at the impact of consumption. It calculated that, in 2007, consumers contributed to more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They also contributed between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use. US households alone contributed to a quarter of global emissions. Only 20 percent were direct emissions from the use of public transport and household fuel. The bigger part was indirect emissions from consumption of products and services. These included housing, transportation, food, manufactured products, and clothing.

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What We Don’t Know (A Lot)


Medium Premium Preview

The big questions that medicine is still struggling to answer

NewCo Shift produces a number of Medium Premium series, articles created in conjunction with noted authors and journalists. One such series is What We Don’t Know, by Thomas Goetz. This series explores the reasons why the most basic problems in medicine are some of the hardest to solve. The first article in the series explores the reasons why we really don’t know how to count dead people.

In 2010, the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report put the number of annual global deaths caused by malaria at 655,000, but that number, however, turned out to be wrong. A correction by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that the actual number was closer to 1.2 million deaths. Goetz asked himself, how could the mortality estimate for malaria, a disease that gets a great amount of attention and resources, and a disease that has such long history and distinct pathology, be so wrong? And how was it possible to get the number right?

Read the first article here to find out why getting the numbers right is really hard to do, and why we must get it right in order to understand human health. The second in the series is due this week, so stay tuned!

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Capitalism at Its Worst: The Opioid Crisis


A major investigation exposes an inhuman calculus of greed


Yesterday a major story broke, one that involves hundreds of billions of dollars, a massive and spiraling crisis in one of our economy’s largest industries, the corruption of Congress and a major Federal agency, and the deaths of more than 200,000 citizens of the United States over the past seventeen years.

Do you know what this story is about?

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