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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/3/2017 10:49:54 PM
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You'd think having dominated search and email, created Chrome and YouTube, plus a self-driving car project, a handful of save-the-world enterprises, and the greatest advertising business in the history of the universe would be enough to keep Google busy. You certainly wouldn't think the folks in Mountain View would suddenly feel the urge to get into the smartphone game, a remarkably mature market where nobody but Samsung and Apple makes any money, and where Google's already ubiquitous thanks to Android.

And yet, tomorrow, Google will reportedly launch the next generation of its smartphone with the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL. At the same time, the company will reportedly introduce a new Chrome OS-based laptop called the Pixelbook, a small smart speaker called the Google Home Mini, and new hardware for the Daydream VR platform. The announcements come on the heels of Google's $1.1 billion acqui-hire of 2,000 HTC engineers, who will help Google make more hardware, more quickly. Right or wrong, smart or stupid, Google's a hardware company now.

Of course, Google's made hardware for a long time. The Nexus team built phones; the Pixel team worked on Chromebooks, tablets, and then also phones. The Ara team, within Google's ATAP division, built its own sort of phones. Another team worked on Chromecast, another on Google Wi-Fi, another on the Daydream View. Remember the Nexus Q set-top-box-doorstep thing? That was Google. All these products had the same goal: to show developers and users how good Google's software could be, running on the right hardware. But they were small-time, limited-run products that rarely led to market-wide innovation. In 2016, something finally clicked, and Google took its fate more firmly into its own hands.

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/7/2017 3:54:29 PM
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Happy Thanksgiving? Amazon Controls the Fate of Pharmacy Benefit Managers ( AMZN) could decide very soon whether it wants to get into the business of selling prescription drugs online, a move that could threaten big pharmacy chains and some pharmacy benefit managers.

Wall Street has debated the likelihood of such a move for months. Earlier today, this very blog reported that analysts from Leerink, a health-care investment bank, were convinced that the e-commerce giant would enter the market in the next two years.

Now,’s Christina Farr reports that Amazon will make a decision by Thanksgiving, citing an email viewed by and a source familiar with the situation.

In the past year, Amazon has ramped up its hiring and consulted with dozens of people about a potential move into the pharmacy market. The consumables team, which includes groceries, kicked off the research, with the division's vice president, Eric French, taking the lead.

It brought on Mark Lyons from Premera Blue Cross to build an internal pharmacy benefits manager for its own employees, say multiple people familiar. According to one of the people, it's possible that the push into the broader drug supply chain hinges on its success with this effort.

In May, the company kicked off its search for a general manager to lead its pharmacy push, externally dubbed "healthcare."

Leerink analyst Ana Gupte also reported that Amazon has been hiring talent. She also says it is "in active discussions with mid-market PBMs and possibly even with large players such as Prime Therapeutics.”

What form Amazon’s business model might take remains to be seen. Leerink’s David Larsen says there are a variety of options, including a partnership with Express Scripts ( ESRX)

...AMZN has several options with regards to entering the space including: (1) AMZN may partner with middle market PBMs and become the mail fulfillment and on-line customer facing solution for those plans; (2) AMZN could buy a middle-market PBM or specialty pharmacy and sell its services direct to employer or plan; (3) AMZN could become a hub that lists prices of different pharmacies on its website, offering upfront and immediate discounts which could appeal to cash-pay or high-deductible plan members; or (4) AMZN could partner with ESRX (MP) in an effort to try and capture retail volumes. We believe that AMZN is in discussions with middle market PBMs now, including Prime, to try and assess how it can fit into the overall market. We also believe that AMZN has been hiring pharmacy services talent, who have expertise in pricing, and we suspect that AMZN has an internal group, operating in secrecy, to explore strategies in healthcare.

Gupte speculates that Amazon’s arrival in the market would most threaten Walgreens Boots Alliance( WBA), CVS ( CVS) and Wal-Mart Stores ( WMT), each of which operates a major pharmacy chain in the U.S.

Shares of Walgreens and CVS are both down sharply today, falling 4.5% and 3.6% respectively. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has edged 0.7% lower.

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From: pharma-rebel10/7/2017 7:30:07 PM
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I can’t wait to see how it plays out after Amazon enters the PBM (Pharmaceutical Benefit Manager) business. With (30% plus) gross margins involved, it’s about time that someone comes in and disrupts this market.

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/11/2017 10:48:45 AM
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Quantum Inside: Intel Manufactures an Exotic New Chip

Intel has begun manufacturing chips for quantum computers.

The new hardware is too feeble to do much real work, but it offers a strong signal that the technology is inching closer to real-world applications. “We’re [moving] quantum computing from the academic space to the semiconductor space,” says Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel.

While regular computers store and manipulate data by representing binary 1s and 0s, a quantum computer uses quantum bits or “qubits,” exploiting quantum phenomena to represent data in more than one state at once. This makes it possible to compute information in a fundamentally different way, and to perform some parallel calculations in the same time it would take to perform a single one.

Quantum computing has long been an academic curiosity, and there are enormous challenges to handling quantum information reliably. The sense is now growing, however, that the technology could emerge from research labs within a matter of years.

Intel’s quantum chip uses superconducting qubits. The approach builds on an existing electrical circuit design but uses a fundamentally different electronic phenomenon that only works at very low temperatures. The chip, which can handle 17 qubits, was developed over the past 18 months by researchers at a lab in Oregon and is being manufactured at an Intel facility in Arizona.

The work was done in collaboration with QuTech, a Dutch company spun out of the University of Delft that specializes in quantum computing. QuTech has made significant progress in recent years toward developing more stable qubits. Intel invested $50 million in QuTech in 2015.

The Intel researchers adapted the company’s existing 300-nanometer “flip chip” processor design to support the delicacy of quantum processing. This means the processors have to work at super-low temperatures and must be impervious to radio frequency interference. The qubits are stable only in extreme cold, and the researchers modified the materials, the circuit design, and the connections between different components.

Intel isn’t the only company working to make quantum computing practical. Google, IBM, Microsoft, and others are also pushing to develop the first quantum machine capable of performing real work.

Intel is relatively late to the game, but the company is betting that its fabrication expertise can help it catch up with or surpass its rivals. Clarke says the company chose to focus on quantum computing in 2014, figuring that it could accelerate progress using existing manufacturing methods. “Intel is the only player that has advanced manufacturing and packaging technologies,” he says.

As the capabilities of quantum chips scale up, these devices should reach a tipping point where certain kinds of calculations can get much faster. This should most immediately affect fields such as chemistry and materials science by enabling immensely complex molecular modeling. But the new capabilities could also spawn a range of new ideas.

Of late, there has been some hope that quantum computing could be used to accelerate machine learning. Several new algorithms have been proposed for “ quantum machine learning,” but with each, significant challenges persist.

Jim Held, director of emerging hardware at Intel Labs, says the company is exploring algorithms alongside its research on hardware. “We think there are major developments in having hybrid algorithms that can use the best of classical capabilities with quantum computers’ strengths,” he says.

Hartmut Neven, who leads Google’s quantum computing project, has said that the company will build a 49-qubit system by next year. At that point the machine would be able to perform calculations that could not be simulated on a conventional supercomputer, a benchmark referred to as “ quantum supremacy.”

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/11/2017 10:52:07 AM
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Driverless Cars Are Giving Engineers a Fuel Economy Headache

Judging from General Motors Co.’s test cars and Elon Musk’s predictions, the world is headed toward a future that’s both driverless and all-electric. In reality, autonomy and battery power could end up being at odds.

That’s because self-driving technology is a huge power drain. Some of today’s prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume two to four kilowatts of electricity -- the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc. The supplier of vehicle propulsion systems expects the first autonomous cars -- likely robotaxis that are constantly on the road -- will be too energy-hungry to run on battery power alone.

In an industry where the number of LEDs in a brake light are scrutinized for their impact on gas mileage, processing data from laser, radar and camera sensors will be an enormous challenge -- not just for coders working on machine learning, but for engineers trying to power vehicles efficiently. As major markets from California to China ratchet up pressure to curb pollution, automakers and their suppliers will have to find creative new ways to offset emissions produced by feeding the car’s increasingly intelligent brain.

“We’ve been battling all the time because the governments are always pushing for a few percent improvement every year,” Scott Gallett, vice president of marketing at BorgWarner, said of fuel-economy standards. “This just amplifies that challenge.”

The autonomous features on a Level 4 or 5 vehicle, which can operate without human intervention, devour so much power that it makes meeting fuel economy and carbon emissions targets five to 10 percent harder, according to Chris Thomas, BorgWarner’s chief technology officer.

To be sure, those calculations are based on prototype cars with sensors rigged on the roof, and the power demands of electronics inside the car will inevitably fall as the technology improves. But even if chipmakers pull off promises to reduce power consumption by as much as 90 percent, automakers will still need to make fuel efficiency gains elsewhere in the vehicles to compensate for all that computing, Thomas said.

“They’re worried about one watt, and now you’re adding a couple thousand,” Thomas said. “It’s not trivial.”

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/13/2017 4:30:04 PM
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Google is essentially building an anti-Amazon alliance, and Target is the latest to join

Google and the country’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailers have one main problem in common: Amazon. Now both sides are acting like they are serious about working together to do something about it.

On Thursday, Target and Google announced that they are expanding what was a years-old delivery partnership from a small experiment in a handful of cities to the entire continental U.S.

The expansion will allow Target to become a retail partner in Google’s voice-shopping initiative, which lets owners of the Google Home “smart” speaker order items through voice commands like owners of the Echo can do from Amazon.

The announcement comes seven weeks after Walmart inked a similar deal with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of products through the service. Other big-box retailers like Home Depot are also on board.

Voice commerce was the core of these recent announcements, and it may someday become popular for types of shopping like reordering household staples. But that’s not what is most interesting here to me.

Instead, it’s the promise that Target is also beginning to work with Google “to create innovative digital experiences using ... other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target’s strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty.”

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/14/2017 12:21:33 PM
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UTM Deep Dive: A Multi-Billion Dollar Market You Can’t Ignore

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) is a concept created by NASA to safely integrate manned and unmanned aircraft into low altitude airspace. In more basic terms, UTM is a system that allows drone operators to connect to a central coordinating service that manages unmanned operations at low altitudes (under 400 feet). This type of service is important for the future of unmanned aircraft because the FAA does not manage airspace below 400’, except near large airports, leaving the majority of the country’s low altitude airspace as uncontrolled. UTM is a global initiative to offer an interoperable solution that will ultimately allow for routine beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights and highly automated operations.

There are many technologies that are required to support the UTM concept. Each function will provide massive market opportunities for large individual companies as well as emerging startups. The 4 key technologies that will enable UTM include UAS Service Suppliers (USS), drone tracking and remote identification, vehicle-2-vehicle (V2V) communication, and detect and avoid (DAA) sensors.

The pieces that will make up the UTM will represent a multi-billion-dollar market opportunity, but we anticipate the UAS Service Supplier market to represent one of the largest components of the system. We believe a USS would charge for their services as a monthly/annual subscription-type fee with providers charging businesses per drone connection. While early, a reasonable fee maybe anywhere from $100 – 300 per drone connection on an annual basis. We expect over 414k commercial drones will be sold globally in 2020, at which time we expect most UTM systems to go live. Over the following 10 years, we believe commercial units sold will increase on a 12.5% CAGR, and by 2030 we expect the industry to ship over 1.6M units annually. Based on our 14.6% CAGR assumption for commercial units leaving the base, we believe over 10.8M commercial drone units will be in the national airspace by 2030. A USS will also coordinate with manned aircraft, and based on FAA, as well as proprietary forecast we believe their will be ~280K manned aircraft regularly flying.

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/17/2017 6:46:58 AM
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How Former BlackBerry Security Specialists Aim to Solve Quantum Threat

The tech industry may have a decade or less to solve its biggest security threat ever: the development of quantum computers able to break the cryptography that underlies everything from online banking to building security cards. One company trying to solve the problem is Isara, a two-year-old startup backed by Research In Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis, which is applying RIM’s security expertise to the quantum security challenge.

Quantum computers are still in development, but they are expected to be able to process vastly more data than regular computers. While that promises to speed everything from medical design to weather prediction, the ability to break security measures on computers may be more significant.

Opinions vary on when quantum computers will advance to that point. IBM, for instance, thinks quantum computers with the level of performance and reliability to break encryption are "several decades away," a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Microsoft’s research team estimates the threat—known as Y2Q—could materialize by 2030. Isara CEO Scott Totzke puts the date at 2026, although he says it could be even earlier as the power of quantum computers increases.

Whenever the breakthrough happens, the impact could be widespread. Mr. Totzke notes that as connected devices and autonomous vehicles become more prevalent, the impact of broken encryption broadens. Isara, he says, wants to “build a business around next-generation security encryption technology to address the threats that come with quantum computers. “

Mr. Totzke worked for 13 years at Research In Motion and founded the company’s security team. His CTO and co-founder is Mike Brown, who also previously worked at RIM. In an interview with The Information, Mr. Totzke talked about the threat posed by quantum computers, what Isara is doing and China’s role in quantum. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/20/2017 3:18:22 AM
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Alphabet is Trying to Reinvent the City, Starting with Toronto

Google has built an online empire by measuring everything. Clicks. GPS coordinates. Visits. Traffic. The company's resource is bits of info on you, which it mines, packages, repackages, repackages again, and then uses to sell you stuff. Now it's taking that data-driven world-building power to the real world. Google is building a city.

Tuesday afternoon, public officials gathered in Toronto to announce that Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary under the Alphabet umbrella that also houses Google, will pilot the redevelopment of 12 acres of southeastern waterfront. Today the area hosts a few industrial buildings and some parking lots. In just a few years, it will be a techified community going by the name of Quayside. Sidewalk Labs has already devoted $50 million to the project, and Google will move its Toronto headquarters to the neighborhood. Once the company has proven out its concept, it plans to expand its redevelopment to the entire 800-acre waterfront area.

This will be a fully Google-fied neighborhood, built from scratch, with a touch of Canadian flavor. (Maple-fried bacon? Poutine? Unfailing bilingual politeness?) Sidewalk Labs promises to embed all sorts of sensors everywhere possible, sucking up a constant stream of information about traffic flow, noise levels, air quality, energy usage, travel patterns, and waste output. Cameras will help the company nail down the more intangible: Are people enjoying this public furniture arrangement in that green space? Are residents using the popup clinic when flu season strikes? Is that corner the optimal spot for a grocery store? Are its shopper locals or people coming in from outside the neighborhood?

In this distinctly "data is deity" Silicon Valley way, Alphabet joins the grand tradition of master-planned cities, places built from near-nothing with big social goals in mind. Historically, these have not worked out. Walt Disney’s Experimental Planned Community of Tomorrow—Epcot—died with its creator, transformed into a play park rather than viable community. South Korea's Songdo won't be finished until 2020, but the "smart city" has already fallen well short of its business and residential goals. The Brazilian capital of Brasilia is largely the work of one architect, Oscar Niemeyer, and though it’s praised for its beauty and scale it doesn’t quite function as a place. These efforts flop because they never feel quite human. They can't shake the sense that they've been engineered, not grown. “The problem is that it's not a city. It's that simple,” the urban scholar Richard Burdett, an urban planning expert and sociologist, told the BBC about Brasilia. “The issue is not whether it's a good city or a bad city. It's just not a city. It doesn't have the ingredients of a city: messy streets, people living above shops, and offices nearby.”

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From: Paul H. Christiansen10/20/2017 3:25:34 AM
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Driving Design – The Technology Shaping Tomorrow’s Innovation

In the near future, everyday objects will think on their own, characters will leap from the page, and machines will create buildings to perfectly match their landscapes — all with the simple swipe of a touchscreen. “Technology will change the way we create,” says Thomas Meyerhoffer, a Swedish-American designer, innovator and entrepreneur. “As the screen becomes the canvas, we will move more and more into our actual environments becoming part of the design process.”

Today’s technological boom is rooted in the 1960s, when government researchers began creating the most revolutionary invention of our time — the Internet. During the Cold War, US military scientists built a communications network for computers in case nuclear war destroyed telephone lines. In 1983, the Internet became standardized, soon leading a British software consultant to create the World Wide Web, sparking grad students, scientists and entrepreneurs across the globe to further refine it, transforming how we communicate. Harnessing the web, computers became smaller and more powerful, able to transport and connect anywhere. In 1996, the Apple eMate — a translucent laptop designed by Meyerhoffer — debuted, its sleek form pushing mobile boundaries even further. Finally, in 2007, the smartphone arrived, a handheld device making the Internet accessible from anywhere in the world with a tap of the finger.

For years, the touchscreen has been a bridge between the physical and digital worlds — and is now taking us to new realms with augmented reality. Cutting-edge technology that uses our devices to overlay digital images and video onto physical environments, AR is changing the way we live, communicate and may soon save our lives. It allows us to view hologram-like furniture in our apartments before buying, try on virtual outfits before ordering and view hotel rooms before booking. At MIT, researchers are using AR to solve problems like pollution and global warming, moving AR-enhanced toy-block buildings around to see how planning effects virtual traffic patterns and urban growth in real time, letting them quantify the impact of design on wellness. An example? Researchers created the HoloAnatomy app, allowing medical students to don specialized AR glasses and study virtual bodies as they float before them, speeding their training. And AR will soon even allow doctors to collaborate on procedures remotely — using sensors to effectively capture and overlay one surgeon’s hands on another’s to help guide surgery from thousands of miles away.

Augmented reality will soon make almost any surface a touchscreen. Cars will have windshields that flag obstacles, project routes, and use cameras to make physical parts of the vehicle seemingly disappear for better viewing. Projector-based technology will use infrared sensors to turn flat surfaces into virtual touchscreens, letting people transform real-world objects into AR versions of themselves, dragging characters off the page or running hands along plain surfaces that become keyboards of light.

But nothing will compare with the next frontier of the Internet — Artificial Intelligence. AI uses algorithms to tell a computer what functions to perform, essentially giving machines the tools to learn on their own. While still in its infancy, AI will ultimately be more transformative for mankind than any technology to date. It is being used to schedule flights, assist doctors in diagnoses and allow people to seamlessly talk with each other in different languages with translation tools. Most incredibly, MIT recently unveiled Gelsight technology, sensors that give robots the sense of touch, and robots at Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab are even watching machine simulators teach themselves how to stand up and run on their own — breakthroughs that researchers believe will open new worlds of communication between man and machine like never before.

Soon, AI will be everywhere. The Internet of Things will connect millions of ordinary devices, from coffeemakers to cars to smartphones, allowing them to be in constant communication while helping us through the day. Socially-focused AI will monitor cloud software information, allowing machines to determine when populations in certain neighborhoods need new schools and then initiate building processes. And AI will even transform the look of our cities, robots absorbing massive amounts of environmental data to then produce blueprints of buildings and bridges perfectly suited to their organic environments, creations that will seamlessly blend with the surrounding world.

Today, technology is at a turning point, rising to become an increasingly natural part of our physical world while redefining the relationship between man and environment. “The future?” Meyerhoffer asks, smiling. “All of this technology will disappear — being both everywhere and nowhere.”

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