Day: May 6, 2024

AI Brings Real Hope for Better Healthcare

How many times have we heard from our leaders that their administration will be the one to finally end cancer? Medical innovation in the United States is profound compared to the rest of the world. Still, clearly, there are many more discoveries to be made. 

For breast cancer survivors like myself, the intersection of artificial intelligence and healthcare represents not just hope but tangible progress in the fight against this devastating disease.

Reflecting on my journey and those of so many others affected by all types of cancer, I can’t help but get excited at the potential of AI to revolutionize diagnostics, pharmaceutical innovation and direct patient care.

Diagnostics is the frontline in the battle against cancer, and it holds incredible significance for survivors. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, using AI to make diagnoses may reduce treatment costs by up to 50 percent and improve health outcomes by 40 percent. Early interventions tend to cost a lot less.

New AI-driven systems are emerging, such as AsymMirai, which simplifies risk prediction by comparing differences between mammograms and can accurately predict breast cancer five years in advance. That’s a game-changer.

Innovation in early detection could spare countless women from unnecessary tests and invasive late-stage procedures, reducing the physical and emotional toll of the diagnostic process. As a survivor who had zero genetic markers and a limited family history of cancer, this breakthrough in early detection is what I needed when my fight with cancer first began. But that’s just the start.

In addition to earlier detection of breast cancer, AI has shown promise in recognizing skin cancer better than experienced dermatologists. A recent study found that AI detected skin cancer more accurately than 58 international dermatologists after examining more than 100,000 images. The importance of accurate and timely cancer detection cannot be understated.

Outsourcing imaging diagnostics to AI could lead to quicker results, lower costs and better outcomes for patients and healthcare consumers.

In addition to diagnostics, the effect of AI on pharmaceutical innovation is equally exciting. While the advancements in pharmaceuticals over the last few decades have been monumental, AI could further expedite the drug discovery process and bring life-saving treatments to patients faster and cheaper.

On average, developing a drug takes more than 10 years and millions of dollars, but AI could streamline that process by better predicting how potential drugs might behave in the body. This would effectively eliminate a lot of slow-moving lab work.

Clinical trials for fully generative AI pharmaceuticals are already happening. Companies started trials last year for a drug called INS018_055, which aims to treat a chronic lung disease known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The hope is that AI can be applied to create more effective treatment options with fewer adverse side effects at a much quicker pace.

AI can easily analyze the entirety of medical records, scans, labs and other pertinent information to determine quickly which medications or treatments will be most effective. For providers, that means more time spent with patients and less staring at paperwork. Anyone who has worked in an office setting understands the connection between paperwork and staff burnout. AI can help alleviate burnout.

AI developers have taken flak recently from skeptics for their confidence that AI will function like a personal assistant and won’t disempower human beings.

From 2021 to 2022, more than 71,000 physicians left their clinical jobs citing overwhelming administrative burdens associated with patient care. That means tasks such as charting during or after patient visits, calling in prescriptions to pharmacies and then being put on hold, determining billing codes, and other tedious, you might say, soul-crushing work.

Healthcare professionals are in the people business, and AI can empower them to spend more time with people. There’s a lot of reason to be hopeful. With my cancer behind me and my eyes toward the future, I’m really encouraged by what AI could bring to healthcare.

Originally published here

Consumer Advocates Call Out FDA’s Failure to Prioritize Access to Safer Nicotine Alternatives

In a highly anticipated House Oversight hearing, consumer advocates speak out against the FDA’s alarming neglect in facilitating access to safer nicotine alternatives for millions of adult consumers. Despite the bipartisan mandate of the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA’s performance has fallen short of expectations, leaving countless individuals without viable options to effectively transition away from combustible cigarettes.

Elizabeth Hicks, US Policy Analyst at Consumer Choice Center responds, “With over 26 million premarket tobacco product applications (PMTA) languishing in bureaucratic limbo, the FDA has only authorized fewer than 50 granted to just a handful of firms, completely disregarding the 180-day review deadline set imposed by Congress. Less than 10 unique devices are available on the regulated marketplace, all of which come from industry incumbents, not to mention the growing categories of nicotine alternatives such as heaters, pouches, toothpicks, and more.

“This blatant failure highlights a systemic issue within the agency, where regulatory inertia trumps the urgent need to provide consumers with safer nicotine alternatives such as e-cigarettes which studies have shown to be 95% less harmful than combustible cigarettes. As a result, consumers are being pushed towards the illicit market, which does not adhere to regulatory standards, to find their preferred nicotine alternative products,” said Hicks.

“Consumers are deeply troubled by the FDA’s abject failure to fulfill its obligations under the Tobacco Control Act. It is imperative that the FDA swiftly rectify this situation by implementing a transparent and expedited regulatory pathway that prioritizes access to scientifically validated, less harmful nicotine products,” she concluded.

Originally published here

Why You Can’t Afford Most Hotels In New York City

On a Friday night in March 2011, I stayed at an upscale W Hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York City for $124. That hotel later became The Maxwell, but sadly it didn’t survive the pandemic and is now permanently closed. Today the average hotel stay in that same neighborhood costs between $400 and $500 on a Friday night. The surge in hotel prices, particularly for upmarket accommodations, has caught the attention of travelers and investors worldwide. What led to this spike in hotel rates post-pandemic?

Several factors have been at play for the hospitality industry since COVID entered the rearview, resulting in higher prices for travelers.

Supply and Competition

Competition within hospitality plays a crucial role in determining hotel prices. While it might appear that there’s no shortage of lodging options for travelers, the regulatory crackdown on platforms like Airbnb in big cities has redirected travelers back into the arms of traditional hotels, thereby increasing demand. 

As the Consumer Choice Center has pointed out, 80 percent of properties were already delisted from Airbnb by October 2023 thanks to New York City’s stringent new short-term rental policies. Because of the new restrictions on temporary rentals, which state that only two paying guests at most can stay for up to 30 days under certain conditions (unobstructed access to the whole residence, short-term registration, owner present on site), many families have no choice but to look for a hotel room during their NYC stay. 

Not to mention the massive buying up of hotel room blocks by the city in order to house newly arrived migrant populations. This warps the market for hotel rooms in profound ways. NYC has at least 140 active contracts with city hotels to fill all their vacant rooms, normally valued around $110 per night, but marked up by 73 percent to $190 for a room. Vacancies mean lower prices, but if surrounding inns are full, hotel prices rise for consumers. 

This arrangement may not be what hoteliers had in mind for their business, but it has proven highly lucrative for the properties cooperating with the city in these contracts. 

Closures of smaller hotels along with industry consolidation reduce the number of options for consumers, which empowers larger hotel chains to raise prices. Moreover, high interest rates on financing discourage the construction of new hotels, leading to an even more constrained supply of rooms. All the while, prices creep even higher. 

Consolidated hotel groups have found innovative ways to manage yields and hence increase revenue. This would explain higher average daily rates despite similar or even lower occupancy rates for NYC hotels pre-pandemic.

Traveler’s Tastes Change 

Higher prices are also related to consumer preferences, which have evolved significantly in recent years. The pandemic prompted a shift towards safer and more luxurious options, with travelers prioritizing enhanced safety measures and amenities. This shift, coupled with pent-up demand from periods of lockdown, has resulted in a willingness among travelers to pay a premium for upmarket hotels. 

Consumers also tend to book closer to their travel dates and are proving reluctant to commit far in advance. A few years of uncertainty around travel has created a more cautious average traveler. On top of that, the normalization of remote work has blurred the lines between business and leisure travel, leading to longer average stays. 

People are taking personal vacations and then staying there longer while they transition back into work mode.

Supply Chains and Labor

Amidst all these trends, operational costs rise with minimum wage hikes, labor shortages, crunched supply chains overseas, and ever-increasing taxes in America’s largest cities. The labor shortfall is not insignificant and leaves hotels struggling to meet the high demand for rooms. The costs are likely being passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. 

It’s also very possible that hotels are eager to recoup losses incurred during the pandemic period, driving them to maximize revenue through price adjustments as demand rebounds in major travel markets. 

It’s a perfect storm of industry trends, regulatory pressures on competitors, and consumer behavior driving up the average price of a hotel stay in NYC and other large cities. Is there anything that can be done? 

Ideally, as prices rise, consumers will see a new wave of entrepreneurial competition offering market solutions and testing out new models for lodging travelers. For the sake of all our wallets, let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

Originally published here

What the Tech? TikTok Ban

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) -President Biden, on Wednesday, signed a bill that contains a potential ban on the social media network TikTok.

The bill states that TikTok has nine months to divest itself from China and that TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, sells the platform to another company. If a sale is agreed to, the bill allows for an extra three months before a ban goes into effect.

So the clock is officially ticking for TikTok.

As you’ve likely heard, the primary concern revolves around user data. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, and there are fears that the Chinese government could demand access to user information—especially from U.S. users.

While many people believe a ban will not survive reviews and lawsuits, consumer advocate Stephen Kent of the non-partisan non-profit group Consumer Choice Center says, this time may be TikTok’s last stand in the United States.

“What we really don’t know, as consumers and American citizens is, what else has Congress determined,” Kent wonders. “It says there’s something bigger here that we don’t understand or know about in the realm of private citizens.”

TikTok argues that a ban would violate Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment which is an argument that proved successful when Montana tried to ban TikTok over a year ago.

Kent says it won’t be the reason a ban could be enacted this time.

Read the full text here

Pentingnya Sosialisasi dan Edukasi untuk Memerangi Rokok Elektrik Ilegal

Rokok elektrik atau vape saat ini merupakan bagian yang sudah digunakan oleh jutaan orang di seluruh dunia, termasuk juga di Indonesia. Saat ini, kita bisa dengan mudah mendapatkan berbagai produk-produk vape dengan berbagai variannya dengan sangat mudah, baik melalui toko fiisk maupun melalui dunia maya.

Fenomena semakin meningkatnya vape ini tentunya memiliki dampak langsung terhadap ekonomi dan pembukaan lapangan kerja. Saat ini misalnya, ada sekitar 100.000 pekerja di Indonesia yang bekerja di sektor rokok elektrik dan produk-produk nikotin alternatif. Tidak hanya itu, dengan 100.000 pekerja, pada tahun 2022 lalu saja industri vape di Indonesia sudah berhasil menyumbang pajak sekitar 629 miliar rupiah (vapemagz.co.id, 14/6/2022).

Angka ini tentu bukan jumlah yang kecil. Besarnya para pekerja yang bekerja di industry vape tentu juga harus masuk dalam perhatian para pembuat kebijakan yang meregulasi industri tersebut di Indonesia.

Di sisi lain, tidak sedikit pula pihak-pihak yang memiliki concern atau kekhawatiran terkait dengan semakin meningkatnya penjualan dan konsumsi vape di Indonesia. Beberapa lembaga di Indonesia misalnya, mengadvokasi pemerintah untuk memberlakukan kebijakan untuk melarang penggunaan vape di tanah air.

Read the full text here

The feds are trying to stifle Bitcoin and crypto with draconian new regulations

ould regulations aimed at halting the financial activity of alleged criminals and terrorists be vastly expanded to include cryptocurrencies and firms that use them? Could this potentially harm entrepreneurial spirit and consumer freedom to deal in digital assets?

Those were the questions asked this week in Washington as officials from the Treasury Department seek new tools to regulate and track Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies that would impact the estimated 50 million Americans who use them.

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee held an oversight hearing with Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo, who offered a series of rule changes to more strictly regulate the crypto activities of alleged criminals.

The three main proposals sought by the treasury would be to develop a sanctions protocol for foreign digital asset providers through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, expand existing money laundering rules that apply to U.S. crypto exchanges, and somehow gain authority to apply those same restrictions to foreign crypto exchanges beyond America’s shores.

Government officials justify these new powers by pointing to the reported cryptocurrency activities of groups like Hamas, which we reported were vastly overblown and technically inaccurate, and also several operations tied to gift cards and crypto exchange operations used by people sympathetic to Al Qaeda and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. 

These latter examples were successfully thwarted and stopped by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security using existing law, and the on-chain activities of these groups and the alleged money launderers who operated in Turkey were enough to secure criminal indictments.

While there is no question that our governments should pursue terrorist activity and financing, there is little evidence that vastly expanded powers against crypto providers would increase enforcement or catch more bad actors. Especially when the vast majority of illicit financing of criminal activities still uses the traditional financial system and U.S. dollars, as the treasury admitted itself.

In response to the Treasury Department’s requests, a new bill called the ENFORCE Act is being floated to expand existing money laundering rules into the crypto sector even more harshly than it is applied to traditional fiat currencies.

It would apply to cryptocurrency custodians, money transmitters, and exchanges but would thankfully exempt any services that provide only non-custodial and peer-to-peer services.

The proposed draft, authored by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN), would require digital asset institutions to maintain robust anti-money laundering programs to ensure compliance with security measures and verify all customer information.

It would also require filing Suspicious Activity Reports with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for any “suspicious transaction that it believes is relevant to the possible violation of any law or regulation,” beginning at $2,000. This overly broad definition extends to any crypto transactions that “serve no business or apparent lawful purpose” as determined by any crypto exchange, and they would be legally required to withhold information of this report from the customer.

While this bill is much less harsh than similar proposals from anti-crypto firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it would provide stricter rules and procedures for crypto companies than the traditional banking sector. 

For the average American consumer and user of cryptocurrencies on custodial services, that means there would be more scrutiny and surveillance at a smaller threshold on Coinbase than Bank of America.

Rather than embracing the permissionless innovation that Bitcoin and its cryptocurrency offspring provide, these rules would force yet more financial surveillance and regulatory compliance on the next iteration of digital money, artificially choking the growth of this industry. 

It would also cause even more Americans to be caught up in the dragnet of “de-banking” for crypto, as institutions would rather cut off customers’ access to their services rather than comply with the unreasonable requirement of Suspicious Activity Reports for transactions above a small threshold, as we already see in the traditional banking system. 

Because these reports have no inherent justification or process, except for the broad situational processes outlined in the Bank Secrecy Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Act, many bank customers have had their accounts closed or suspended without due process. Many are likely to be minorities, the underbanked, and politically active or religiousgroups.

This measure, applied to cryptocurrencies at a laughable limit of $2,000 — which exceeds the average rent paid in several states — demonstrates the government’s willingness to restrict crypto activity for law-abiding citizens not suspected of any formal crime.

Along with the mounting financial regulations that compel institutions to restrict access to Americans both at home and internationally, this bill means that citizens who wish to participate in the crypto sector risk being denied actively.

In pursuit of criminals and terrorists, legislators are expanding definitions to empower government action against everyday American citizens using their self-endowed natural rights to use new-age digital assets like Bitcoin and its crypto offspring.

Whatever this bill or future legislation requires, it is clear that non-custodial solutions and peer-to-peer transactions without any intermediary will have to remain the focus for scaling the adoption of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

This will empower those who can hold their own private keys, generate addresses, and safeguard their wealth, but it will likely deprive millions of Americans who aren’t technically able to use these tools and choke the future innovation of entrepreneurs who would like to provide those solutions.

Regulatory frameworks for digital assets will be vital going forward, but they should not come at the expense of neutering the very reason these technologies were invented: the separation of money and state.

Originally published here

There is Nothing Wrong With Tiered Video Game Pricing

Ubisoft is not the most popular video game publisher these days. Popular search results for “Why is Ubisoft—” tend to point you toward “so bad”, “not working” or “hated”. Regardless, the game maker best known for Assassin’s Creed, Rainbow Six, Far Cry, and Watchdogs notched a huge win when by landing themselves a Star Wars game, Star Wars Outlaws.

Star Wars is a highly coveted IP, and after being mishandled for a decade by Electronic Arts, the rights to Star Wars were opened back up to studios with winning game ideas for Lucasfilm. Ubisoft’s Star Wars Outlaws drops in August, but already the storm clouds of gamer resentment are gathering for Star Wars’ “first-ever” open-world title. Gamers aren’t happy with the announcement of tiered pricing for Outlaws, ranging from $69.99 to $129.99.

In many ways, video game consumers are underserved when it comes to game quality, pricing, and choice, but anger around Star Wars Outlaws is misplaced.

Like with most rage directed at game developers, price is the sticking point for consumers and Star Wars fans waiting to play Outlaws. Ubisoft is offering different editions of the game starting at $69.99 for the base game and a pre-order bonus which includes cosmetic customization for your character’s speeder, $109.99 for that plus 3 days of early access before launch and a “Season Pass” for upcoming DLC expansions to the game. DLC stands for downloadable content and is usually extra quests, new storylines, and experiences.

Priced at $129.99 consumers can get all of this as well as a digital concept art book for the game, and more cosmetic “skins” for your player and vehicles. Lastly, Ubisoft offers Outlaws at $17.99 per month with their Ubisoft+ subscription, which gives subscribers access to all the perks plus 100+ other games from their library.

FandomWire called Outlaws tiers an “atrocious pricing strategy” and The Gamer ran an article saying it was “slimy” and “Star Wars Outlaws has no business charging over a hundred dollars for Ultimate and Gold editions.”

What all of this really means is that the game itself costs $70, and if a gamer deeply desires a pink gun mod, a Han Solo costume for their character, a concept art PDF, and 72 hours of early access to the game then they can purchase those things. This complaint encapsulates the long-running debate concerning pay-to-win tactics over rewards tied to merit.

DLCs are different. Game expansions used to be a la carte by design. A game would launch, it would hopefully be successful, and there would be a clear market demand for more content to be added to the game to keep players engaged. Star Wars Galaxies was an early Star Wars massive multiplayer online game with a remarkable base game, and then a steady stream of DLC expansion packs that opened up new worlds and quests for players. They were usually around $25 a piece and over the course of Galaxies’ run, you might have bought four of these DLCs before the game’s servers shut down in 2011.

Gamers are tired, and it’s understandable. AAA-games from major studios are coming out very slowly, and they are increasingly being released in hasty fashion with work still to be done through digital updates. Ubisoft has slipped into this on a number of occasions. On top of that, you have the trend of in-game transactions and loot crates changing the relationship between gaming and rewards to be tilted in favor of those willing to pay for perks. This is what won Star Wars Battlefront the most downvoted post in Reddit history at the time it was made.

However, it is impossible to ignore that making games is not a cheap business anymore. The resources needed to produce these games are only increasing. The demands of online multiplayer gaming with vast expansive worlds have led to games functioning almost like living documents that receive updates and expansions, requiring continuous revenue to fund the servers bearing the weight of the game’s success. The way publishers have kept prices down to date has been through the very models that gamers are frustrated by.

The world of video games has changed. Gone are the simple days of video game cartridges and disc collections. No studio has perfected a business model that’s both profitable and well-liked by consumers in the digital age of gaming. However, a world without tiered pricing options would only further exacerbate identified problems, leaving gamers worse off in the process.

Originally published here

New Privacy Rights Act Exempts Government and Gives More Power to the FTC

Data privacy talk in Congress seems kind of ironic coming just a week after lawmakers rejected a proposal to make federal authorities get a warrant to search Americans’ electronic communications. But in keeping with that move, the American Privacy Rights Act—a draft data privacy bill that will be getting a hearing in the House Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee today—would exempt governments and entities dealing with data on behalf of the government from its protections.

The bill would also give more power to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and create an “unprecedented” private right of action to sue companies over data handling, according to Yaël Ossowski.

Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, which bills itself as “an independent, non-partisan consumer advocacy group championing the benefits of freedom of choice, innovation, and abundance in everyday life.” I talked to him yesterday about the bill’s (few) benefits and its (myriad) drawbacks.

Read the full text here

Public response to Financial Action Task Force’s proposed card exemption revisions

As an organization, we are alarmed by the Financial Action Task Force’s proposed card exemption revisions in the Explanatory Memorandum and draft revisions to Recommendation 16 released on February, 26 2024. If adopted, the revisions would create a situation in which increasing compliance requirements through more stringent FATF standards would violate the FATF’s commitment to a risk-based approach.

Read the response submitted by the Consumer Choice Center below.

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