Yes, tech companies may listen when you talk to your virtual assistant. Here’s why that’s not likely to stop

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Big tech companies don’t like to talk about it. And when users find out it’s happening, they’re often surprised — and disturbed. Yes, if you talk to a virtual assistant, such as Amazon’s Alexa, a human may listen to a recording of your chatter.

Recent reports have highlighted what is actually a longstanding practice meant largely to improve the artificial intelligence that underpins the virtual assistant-powered gadgets and services that are popping up throughout people’s homes and lives.

The practice raises privacy concerns for smart-speaker users in particular, who might have known that Amazon, Google, and Apple create recordings each time you speak to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, respectively, but not that people might review them.

The companies have said only a small percentage of recordings are listened to by humans. Still, Google and Apple have temporarily halted human reviews of their recordings, while Amazon recently changed its settings to make it easier for people to avoid such review at all.

Last week, Facebook said it, too, had paused human review of some users’ audio clips, such as those sent as audio messages via the social network’s Messenger app. Facebook had been using humans to listen in, as part of an AI-transcription feature.

Lost in the shuffle of these revelations is whether people are truly needed to make these AI-dependent systems work, and how much companies should tell users about this process.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Merck Virtual Engagement and Educational Experience and Virtual Business Opportunity Fair

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Merck business fair

Merck’s Virtual Engagement Center will offer two tracks for Diverse Suppliers:

The Merck Global Economic Inclusion & Supplier Diversity Educational Experience (kick-off May 21, 2020) is a webinar series geared toward the developing the knowledge of diverse suppliers in the marketplace.

These monthly sessions will give diverse suppliers a leg-up and get them ready to pitch their capabilities and services, while learning how to set themselves apart and ultimately win the business.

Register Here

The Virtual Business Opportunity Fair, June 17, 2020, one of two LIVE events in 2020, that will provide the opportunity for diverse suppliers to engage with Merck’s supply chain professionals, Prime Suppliers and Advocacy Organizations during a virtual tradeshow.
Register Here

Supplier development and diversity are critical to our mission of Inventing for Life. We are excited to deploy these two exciting programs as part of the Virtual Engagement Center and hope you will join us.

The First Pharmacy to Add Drones for Delivery

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A drone holding a small UPS package flies in front of a CVS Pharmacy

CVS, in an effort to ensure proper medication is easily available to those who need it the most, has been utilizing in-store pickup, drive through services, and free delivery to distribute their prescriptions. But for the first time in history, in partnership with UPS, one CVS pharmacy will start delivering medication in a new way—by drone.

The Villages, the largest retirement facility in the United States, located in central Florida, will begin receiving their prescription medications from CVS via drone delivery starting in early May and is expected to continue until the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Drone delivery will enable more social distancing of especially susceptible members of the community and decrease the chances of infection on both sides. The drones will only be flying a half-mile distance to a separate location and transported by truck from there.

Though this technology is rarely used presently, this isn’t the first time that drone delivery has been tested. In fact, drone delivery was first utilized by UPS to make deliveries to WakeMed’s flagship campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, and at UC San Diego in California. These deliveries, as well as the ones that will be made in Florida, adhere to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rules and have permission to be utilized during the pandemic.

Deployment of delivery drones during the pandemic could potentially open up to possibilities of drone delivery in the future and among other CVS pharmacies.

To read the full press release, click here

This New COVID-19 Test is Bringing Us Closer to the Cure

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The University of Washington’s Virology Lab has been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It was one of the first labs to formulate a test for the presence of the virus and has processed thousands of these tests at its facilities. In fact, the university’s virology lab is currently processing its newest success in partnership with Abbott Labs’ antibody test for COVID-19.

The University has been running trials of Abbott Labs’ antibody blood tests, designed to find out who has natural or built-up immunity to COVID-19. The trials have proved to be incredibly successful.

Though showing immunity isn’t a cure, it is a major step to getting to that point. Knowing who is immune and who has had the virus before helps track the origins of the disease, knowing the components that can be used in a vaccine, and helps ensure the safety of bringing people back into the workforce. It is unclear how the antibodies of the novel coronavirus work or if you could get infected with the virus a second time, but Keith Jerome, the leader of the University of Washington’s virology program, assured that people with the antibodies will have more protection than those who do not. Receiving the virus a second time could result in more cold-like symptoms and not require the extreme hospitalization methods in place now.

The work being done in the study of antibodies through the University of Washington would not be possible without Abbott’s partnership. The antibody test produced by Abbott is not the first of its kind to be produced, but it is said to be the most reliable and the most sensitive in analyzation. In fact, Abbott’s test has correctly identified COVID-19 99.6% of the time against other viruses and has a 100% sensitivity to the coronavirus antibodies. Best of all, the test only takes about ten to fifteen minutes to retrieve the results.

“This starts to get us to the point that we can make a difference for the population of our area, get people back to work and give them back the lives that they were hoping for,” Jerome said.

5 changes to expect in the workplace after COVID-19

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As a result of the coronavirus, the workplace will never be the same. Even the word “workplace” suddenly seems obsolete, as the physical location in which we now work has merged with the places in which we eat, sleep, learn, exercise, and play.

The COVID-19 crisis has created the ultimate “burning platform”—an unexpected, overnight opportunity for people to see the impact of swift and meaningful change, and to witness the negative consequences of trying to ignore this aberration from everyday life. Within organizations, the virus has been driving significant change in how their employees operate with each other, as well as with clients, customers, and vendors.

Now that companies are shifting past their immediate response to the crisis, we’ve entered into a temporary “new normal.” However, what will the long-term impacts of our new normal be on the world of work? Winning organizations will be those that integrate and master digital work, community, and collaboration.

To succeed, companies need to begin planning now for five key shifts:

1. Full digital transformation, supported by a truly virtual workforce

Companies have quickly figured out how to serve their customers and clients remotely, and there’s no going back. From telemedicine in hospitals to remote learning for public schools and streaming fitness classes, every industry has accelerated its own digital transformation. As a result, the demand for highly skilled remote workers will continue to increase.

With a surge of candidates in the market, organizations should be preparing to recruit and integrate these key individuals into the organization quickly and seamlessly, so they can capitalize on the cost savings and broader access to rockstar talent.

2. Focus on outputs versus face time

Being the first one in the office and the last one to leave is no longer a measure of commitment and performance. In a post-COVID-19 world, employees will be measured on what gets done and the value of their work rather than on the individual tasks and the time it takes to get the work done.

Leaders must provide crisp, outcome-driven expectations so that their people can deliver on goals successfully. Motivating employees to perform will require modeling and measurement of their outputs and being clear on those metrics. Companies must level-set expectations for what drives organizational priorities and goals, rather than discrete tasks.

3. Respect for work-life blend

More than ever before, companies are recognizing that working “nine to five” is unsuited to the demands of a modern workforce. If leaders can place greater emphasis on flexibility for people to accomplish their best work—when and how it meets their personal needs (as well as the needs of the company)—they can reinforce the cultural shift of measuring staff based on performance, which can result in exponential benefits for the organization.

Organizations must remove stigma and support employees’ needs to make time for self-care–including exercise, meals, and family time. Policies and procedures need to reflect these shifts, and leaders must model a true work-life blend so that it becomes part of the company culture.

4. Stronger communications

Now that companies have gone fully virtual, individuals are communicating more efficiently and more frequently across a networked environment. To do this well, everyone, at every level, must make opportunities for dialogue by employing numerous channels.

Leaders can make communication easier for their people. They can remove roadblocks, create a governance structure that pushes decision-making out and down, and provide employees with the tools and training they need to empower them for ongoing communication and local decision-making. With traditional hierarchies gone, true leaders must step up to facilitate information flow across the organization.

5. Increased trust, transparency, and empathy

We are witnessing a revolution in leadership. In a recent leadership study of Fortune 500 executives and entrepreneurs, respondents cited behaviors such as humility and listening skills as essential qualities of great change leaders. And leadership experts such as Kim Scott and Brené Brown have long proselytized about the importance of candor and vulnerability. Now, leaders and employees must understand and support each other like never before. People are sharing more about their personal situations with colleagues, and as a result, they are creating an expectation of humanity, active listening, support, and connection.

Continue on to Fast Company to read the complete article.

A Quick Chat with Kellan Barfield

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Kellan Barfield discusses her booming tech company, SOURCE EXPLORER, with Diversity in STEAM Magazine.

How did you develop the platform for SOURCE EXPLORER?

I started by interviewing Life Science Professionals about what their needs were when searching for a supplier. I observed a common theme. They were tired of hearing from vendors that they “can do it all,” when they want a specialist who has a proven track record of the exact services they’re looking for. I used this feedback to create a search engine that pulls up vetted, reviewed, and relevant supplier profile matches for their needs. This allows them to begin a new supplier relationship with trust from the start, knowing their project is not a “guinea pig” for a supplier who is just hoping for business. They are a valued client who will have experts working with them side-by-side, making the best recommendations and achieving the highest quality results.

What is your biggest challenge in running a woman-owned pharma company?

This isn’t specific to serving pharmaceutical companies, but it’s much harder for women to find funding for any new venture. Most investors are men, and there is an echo chamber of male voices reinforcing bias. There are still both men and women who have questions about whether or not women are “stable enough” to invest in, or if they’re “at risk” of taking time off for the same family commitments men have. A fellow female founder I know well was asked by a male bank representative if perhaps “her daddy could co-sign” a loan when she had plenty of collateral and $800k of orders from Walgreens in her hand. This kind of thing happens every single day. It’s real.

How is your company impacting the life sciences community?

Life Science projects are so important—this is how we get treatments to patients. So, there’s a sense of urgency to get them started. But when I managed $30M+ commercial budgets for pharmaceutical companies like Alcon and Gilead just a couple of years ago, I had multiple projects where it took up to four months just to find the suppliers I wanted to include in an RFP. And that’s before we actually go through the process of receiving and reviewing proposals and pitches. It’s months and months before progress can be made that way.

I saw a need—because it was my own—and I addressed it with SOURCE EXPLORER. It’s much easier and faster to do everything from searching to sourcing, even requesting work samples and following updates from favorite suppliers. The easier it gets, the faster vital projects get started, and the closer we get to helping people who need medical intervention.

What other goals would you like to accomplish?

Ultimately, it’s all about achieving greater patient outcomes. My way of accomplishing this is to support the people making it happen. Life Science Professionals work hard, often navigating and juggling so many factors, priorities, and processes that it would make your head spin. With SOURCE EXPLORER, I’ve taken one of those processes down to minutes, connecting them with the suppliers they need when they need them. But there’s so much more support this industry needs, even if it’s just a laugh. Ultimately, I would like to continue investing in making SOURCE EXPLORER the go-to place where Life Science lives.

What advice would you give young women looking to get into the pharma/life sciences industry?

Build relationships within the industry before you think you need them. Use platforms like LinkedIn to connect with people in your classes, at your internships, and who are already established in Life Sciences. Stay in touch with them as you develop in your education and career, and get to know how you can support them in their goals whenever possible. Relationships will get you farther than your degree alone.

Jim Ryan and the Wheelie 7: A Game Changer for Mobility

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Jim Ryan, male, sitting in his HOOBOX Robotics' Wheelie 7 wheelchair in his living room, smiling for the camera

By Jaeson “Doc” Parsons

The date of March 30th, 2016, will be forever etched into the mind of Jim Ryan. That day, while vacationing in Maui with his wife, Isabelle, a wave struck him in waist deep water, driving him into the sea floor. He surfaced, unconscious and unresponsive. In that split second, Ryan was paralyzed, becoming a quadriplegic from his C4 vertebrae down. In that moment, his life was changed forever.

Ryan is not alone. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, nearly 288,000 people in the United States are living with spinal cord injuries, and there about 17,700 new cases each year.

For those with movement-limiting conditions like Ryan, getting around can exact a terrible toll on quality of life and autonomy. A 2018 study found that physical mobility has the largest impact on quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries. Mobility is often enabled through caregivers or through a motorized wheelchair with complex sensors placed on the body that require special education to operate.

With this in mind, technology company Intel partnered with robotics company Hoobox to create the first-ever artificial intelligence-powered wheelchair that translates facial expressions into freedom of movement.

Using a combination of Intel hardware and software, Hoobox developed ‘The Wheelie’—a wheelchair kit that utilizes facial recognition technology to capture, process, and translate facial expressions into real-time wheelchair commands, finally providing individuals such as Ryan with autonomy, regardless of the physical limitations they’re facing. This system is a kit which can be installed on any motorized wheelchair system and, at under 7 minutes for installation, is relatively easy to implement.

Like many individuals suffering from spinal cord injuries, Ryan was using a conventional motorized system, one that uses a head array to translate gestures into movement.

“Before the Wheelie I drove my wheelchair with the head array. It is like a horseshoe around my head with five buttons that I used to turn left, right, forward, back, and change modes,” Ryan said. “Because of the head array, I am unable to look left and right. Nor can I wear hats of virtually any type. The hats get in the way of my buttons.”

Hoobox saw this limitation and found a way through it. By incorporating AI and a camera, the Wheelie 7 operates without invasive body sensors, providing users with independence and control over their location. It translates 11 different facial expressions into wheelchair commands in real time with 99.9% accuracy. And its performance improves over time as the algorithm learns to recognize the user’s expressions, allowing for increased freedom of movement.

“The Wheelie allows me to turn my head left and right and wear any hat I want,” said Ryan, who was introduced to Hoobox’s Wheelie through a group in Vancouver. He is one of more than 60 individuals who are testing the new technology to help Hoobox developers understand their needs and requirements.

Since being introduced to the Wheelie 7, Ryan has improved not just his mobility, but his lifestyle as well.

“I now can look left and right, up and down. I can wear a sun hat or baseball hat in the summer and nice winter hat or hoodie in the winter,” he said.

As technology continues its march forward with advances in AI systems, the limitations on mobility for those suffering from debilitating injuries like Ryan are beginning to see a transformation.

Wheelie 7 is a game changer in improving access to mobility solutions for those with conditions resulting from nearly 500,000 spinal cord injuries per year. But through continued research and development by companies such as Intel and Hoobox, and with the help of individuals such as Ryan, mobility is becoming a reality.

“For a person like me it gives a tremendous amount of freedom,” he said. “By using facial expressions instead of head movements, the Wheelie allows me more freedom and comfort in my wheelchair. And for anyone else with limited movement like me, it can be at true asset.”

General Atomics and Its Affiliates Unite in Fight Against COVID-19

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As the U.S. and the world take on the challenge of combating the novel coronavirus, General Atomics (GA) and its affiliates are leveraging their expertise in manufacturing and innovation to meet the urgent needs of our communities.

At GA facilities in San Diego and across the country, test kit development, 3D printing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilator component manufacturing are underway to assist in the fight against COVID-19 at a local, state and national level.

 

  • GA, Diazyme is offering a COVID-19 Antibody test from blood draws (serum or plasma). Under the FDA’s policy for Public Health Emergency for COVID-19, Diazyme utilized the notification process as outlined in Section IVD of the policy and is now listed on the FDA’s FAQ site dedicated to serological (Antibody) testing. The Diazyme’s sensitive test is run on a fully-automated Diazyme DZ-Lite 3000 chemiluminescence analyzer. Diazyme is already working with multiple clinical laboratories around the country, including the UCSD Medical Center to perform these serological tests. Serological tests are not for sole diagnosis of the COVID-19 disease but are valuable in understanding community spread of the disease.
  • Diazyme has also notified the FDA of a rapid COVID-19 Antibody test. This point-of-care test requires only a single drop of blood and provides results within 10-15 minutes. Rapid tests tend to be less sensitive than the lab run tests but are easy to use and can be performed at the point-of-care (doctor’s office, community clinics) and is useful in identifying people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, as well as those who have already recovered, but were unaware that they had been infected.
  • More information about Diazyme’s tests including regulatory statutory statements can be found at http://www.diazyme.com/dz-lite-sars-cov-2
  • GA, Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) group is pursuing component manufacturing and integration services to help scale up production of ventilators. With extensive manufacturing facilities located across the U.S., GA-EMS provides a convenient, US-sourced option to help companies rapidly increase their production capacity to meet the high demand for critical medical equipment. GA-EMS has also tested their first generation mechanized bag valve mask. The system would fit into a backpack and could replace human interaction with the bag enabling more controlled and repeatable tides for infants, children and adults.
  • GA-EMS, GA-Energy group, and GA-ASI adapted their prototyping and production capacities to produce 3D-printed face shields to meet local demand for PPE. Since late March, the joint team has manufactured and shipped over 5,000 face shields in the greater San Diego area and across the nation.
  • GA-EMS is accelerating the development schedule of its MATCHBOX™ Point-of-Care molecular diagnostic platform responding to the growing need for COVID-19 testing. MATCHBOX is expected to have the capability to test and diagnose for a wide range of known respiratory infections, including COVID-19, within 30-60 minutes using a single patient sample using a portable point-of-care instrument.

“The health, safety and well-being of our employees and our communities at large is a top priority for GA,” said Neal Blue, GA Chairman and CEO. “GA has been delivering solutions in support of public health for decades, and with so many in need during this unprecedented time, we have concentrated our collective efforts to address the current pandemic. I salute colleagues as they continue to innovate and look for creative solutions to the current crisis.”

About General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems

General Atomics pioneers in the development of transformational technologies. Since the dawn of the atomic age, GA’s innovations have advanced the state of the art across the full spectrum of science and technology – from nuclear energy and defense to medicine and high-performance computing. Behind a talented global team of scientists, engineers, and professionals, GA delivers safe, sustainable, and economical solutions to meet growing global demands. www.ga.com.

From Hospitality To Hospitals

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Whether by ordinance or choice, the amount of people traveling has significantly decreased. Because of this, the hospitality industry has seen a significant decrease in visitors in the last several weeks. Though hotel beds no longer contain tourists and vacation goers, they aim to be filled by our biggest heroes: medical personnel.

On March 26, Airbnb announced they will be using many of their facilities to provide housing to the medical professionals fighting COVID-19 who wish to stay closer to their hospitals and medical centers. About 4,000 hosts have offered their homes for a discounted or free cost, with Airbnb willing to waive the costs for landlords needing the payment on homes. Airbnb has also promised that every home will be extraordinarily clean and the perfect place to isolate, should those staying there contract the virus.

Hotels are following a similar protocol. Several hotels in New York City are transforming their empty tourists’ lodgings into living spaces for medical personnel and first responders. To take it a step further, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to transform many hotel rooms into hospital beds, where those affected by the virus can receive proper treatment.

Though the hospitality industry could have struggled during this outbreak, their new dedication to medical personnel and patients really encompasses how communities and businesses can come together to help the greater good.

Natalie Rodgers
Diversity in STEAM Magazine contributing writer

This Town Is Already Getting Deliveries By Drones

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Drone carrying first aid package

In Christiansburg, Virginia, deliveries by drones are not only being studied but also implemented for the town’s citizens amid social distancing due to COVID-19.

The deliveries technically began in October, when a drone nicknamed “Wing” carried a fleece vest for the last two miles of the item’s delivery route. This marked “Wing” as the first drone to ever carry out this kind of delivery in the United States. Ever since this incident, the drone has continued to deliver packages over short distances, especially during this time of social distancing.

Besides Christiansburg, drone deliveries have only been officially tested in areas of Finland and Australia, as researchers are still looking into the mechanics of using drones for everyday deliveries. All of the towns conducting tests, including Christiansburg, have a flat topography and relatively small populations, making them ideal spots to test drone delivery without geographic or social interruption from largely populated cities. Virginia Tech, the home to an unnamed drone research department, also resides in close proximity to Christiansburg, as to closely study the effects of drone delivery.

While drone delivery has so far proved successful, it does have its controversies. For one, the delivery drones would not be able to deliver any item, having a weight limit of about three pounds. Drones must also pass the test of public perception as tests try to seek the normalization of drone delivery by everyone. Regardless, “Wing” and its correspondents have already partnered with  major companies, such as Walgreens and FedEx, to deliver essential items, and the search has already begun for more testing sites across the United States.

Natalie Rodgers
Diversity in STEAM Magazine contributing writer

From A Simple Swab To A Simple Sniff—How dogs are being trained to detect COVID-19

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dogs face close up

Especially for the elderly and to those with compromised immune systems, coronavirus testing kits are critical to treating the virus at an early stage. The current test is excellent at its job but is limited to and inaccessible to many people around the world—not to mention it’s uncomfortable. But what if there were an easier way?

Many scientific journals have proposed each disease has its own distinct scent. Many dogs have been used in the past to detect different types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and bacterial ailments. That is why the organization Medical Detection Dogs, located in the United Kingdom, have begun trials with medical professionals to see if dogs can sniff out the coronavirus’ scent.

The hope is that dogs will pick up on COVID-19’s scent among large crowds and detect those carrying the virus. This procedure would not only be more comfortable than current testing but could also cover more ground and be less invasive.

Should these dogs be successful, Professor Steve Lindsay of Durham University believes that, “…we could use COVID-19 detection dogs at airports at the end of the epidemic to rapidly identify people carrying the virus. This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”

Natalie Rodgers
Diversity in STEAM Magazine contributing writer