Health care is a simple market failure

Oakland’s Highland Hospital lists its price for a single chest X-ray at $131, while over the Bay at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, they say it’ll set you back $2,618.

An aspirin tablet? Highland wants $7 for that, but it’s $1.02 at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and just 30 cents at Walnut Creek’s John Muir Medical Center. If that seems like a bargain, consider that Rite Aid sells a bottle with 100 of those same pills for $5.49, less than 5 and a half cents each. UCSF suggests they don’t charge for an aspirin pill at all.

Hoping to empower consumers who are shouldering more and more of their health care costs each year, the federal government this year is requiring hospitals across the country to post their standard price lists on their websites.

Hospitals must now post their prices online: $7 for 5-cent aspirin?

You can explain away these deltas, but you cannot rationally defend them. Our health care system is a knot of confusion and the lowest hanging fruit is transparency. We don’t need to walk away from the market economy for health care; we need to embrace it.

Best reporting I’ve run across on health insurance: Someone Else’s Money.

TV’s are also computers

Samsung’s 2018 and 2019 range of televisions will be able to access and play your iTunes movie and TV show library, the company has announced. You’ll also be able to buy and rent content from iTunes directly from the TV. The content will be available through a dedicated app which will debut exclusively on Samsung’s TVs. The TVs will also include support for AirPlay 2, Apple’s wireless streaming standard.

Apple is putting iTunes on Samsung TVs

Every so often news is announced that makes you realize, oh that is a trend that was obvious and that I should have noted before: TV’s are becoming computers just like everything else.

So long set-top boxes, Roku’s, AppleTV’s and all that. You were a hassle anyway.

All your big data are belong to us

Maybe China hacked Marriot. Maybe not.

What made the Starwood attack different was the presence of passport numbers, which could make it far easier for an intelligence service to track people who cross borders. That is particularly important in this case: In December, The New York Times reported that the attack was part of a Chinese intelligence gathering effort that, reaching back to 2014, also hacked American health insurers and the Office of Personnel Management, which keeps security clearance files on millions of Americans.

Marriott Concedes 5 Million Passport Numbers Lost to Hackers Were Not Encrypted

But in a world where there are massive repositories of data on massive numbers of people (cue “IN A WORLD…” dramatic narration), that data is going to be used by governments. That’s just how this is going to work.

(The use of the post title meme probably dates me.)

Machine learning how to nudge

Humu wants to bring similar data-driven insights to other companies. It digs through employee surveys using artificial intelligence to identify one or two behavioral changes that are likely to make the biggest impact on elevating a work force’s happiness. Then it uses emails and text messages to “nudge” individual employees into small actions that advance the larger goal.

. . . . .

But after receiving nudges for a few months himself in emails from Mr. Crosby, whose email address is used to send the messages, Mr. Razdan said the bite-size reminders made it easy to take action right away. In one instance, he said, he was prompted to ask members of his team for their opinions on decisions he was facing.

“The team doesn’t know I was nudged,” he said. “But I’m not ashamed to tell everyone that I heard from Wayne today.”

Firm Led by Google Veterans Uses A.I. to ‘Nudge’ Workers Toward Happiness

Not sure machine learning is really critical to this endeavor, but how could a startup do this and not insist it was using machine learning? AI is the new electricity.

Of course even with the low-stakes nudges, there are critics:

“The companies are the only ones who know what the purpose of the nudge is,” Professor Haugh said. “The individual who is designing the nudge is the one whose interests are going to be put in the forefront.”

Really? We can’t even nudge?

Legal Complaining Technology

Barbara Deckert has a new weapon in the war against airplane noise — and she’s not afraid to use it.

Every time a plane flies over her suburban Maryland home, rattling her windows and setting her teeth on edge, she presses a small white button and feels a tiny sense of triumph.

That’s because with one click, Deckert has done what could have taken her hours to do a few months ago — she has filed a noise complaint with officials at the Maryland Aviation Administration.

Button offers instant gratification for those plagued by airplane noise (via The new economics of complaining)

How many markets might there be for this kind of complaining technology?

Pets aren’t just property: divorce edition

A new California law means pets don’t need to be treated as “just” property in a divorce.

Legal experts said the law means judges can take into consideration factors like who walks, feeds and plays with the pet when deciding who the animal should live with.

“Before it was an issue of who owns the dog and how you distribute the property,” Favre said. “But pets aren’t quite the same thing as china and sofas. They’re more like children, in that they’re living beings who have their own preferences.”

And as with children, he said, divorce can be “a trauma for animals as well.”

The law doesn’t just apply to dogs — it defines “pet” as “any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.”

New California divorce law: Treat pets like people — not property to be divided up

This is an attention grabbing premise, but the law is about treating people better, not pets. Given the terrible incentives embedded in family law, I suppose we should be welcoming any improvement.

You don’t own your tattoos

You might own your dance moves, but you definitely don’t own your tattoos. But can you effectively sub-license them?

Any creative illustration “fixed in a tangible medium” is eligible for copyright, and, according to the United States Copyright Office, that includes the ink displayed on someone’s skin. What many people don’t realize, legal experts said, is that the copyright is inherently owned by the tattoo artist, not the person with the tattoos.

For most people, that is not a cause for concern. Lawyers generally agree that an implied license allows people to freely display their tattoos in public, including on television broadcasts or magazine covers. But when tattoos are digitally recreated on avatars in sports video games, copyright infringement can become an issue.

Athletes Don’t Own Their Tattoos. That’s a Problem for Video Game Developers.

And this is not the first time this has been an issue.

An inflection point for AI?

Yet this peculiar retreat was venomous: No matter how Stockfish replied, it was doomed. It was almost as if AlphaZero was waiting for Stockfish to realize, after billions of brutish calculations, how hopeless its position truly was, so that the beast could relax and expire peacefully, like a vanquished bull before a matador. Grandmasters had never seen anything like it. AlphaZero had the finesse of a virtuoso and the power of a machine. It was humankind’s first glimpse of an awesome new kind of intelligence.

One Giant Step for a Chess-Playing Machine

When I was a graduate student in AI I often pointed to the Deep Blue v. Kasparov series as an illustration of how clueless we were in AI: grandmasters usually considered only a few moves in their two minutes of thinking, and Deep Blue churned through millions. Yet we had no idea how grandmasters came up with those few moves for consideration.

AlphaZero is a revelation. I hope to post more on it.