Thursday, June 23, 2016

Leaving the Nest

What's the first thing you do when going on vacation

Lock up the home!

"Why Nest’s woes are typical of the smart home industry" by Hayley Tsukayama Washington Post  June 07, 2016

WASHINGTON — Nest, the smart appliance company — which is owned by Google — was supposed to be the trailblazer leading the smart home revolution. When Google put down $3.2 billion to buy it in 2014, it appeared to make sense. The company was already a fixture in consumers’ online lives, and the purchase would give Google an entry point into their offline lives.

But Nest proved to be a less-than-ideal poster child.

It was slow to put out products. When it did, it wasn’t always a success. The company’s Nest Protect smoke alarm hit early problems that required the company to disable its most innovative feature — the ability to wave your hand under the detector to stop the alarm. (It was a particularly attractive feature for bad or at least smoke-heavy cooks.) The company also fielded very public complaints about faulty software that, as The New York Times reported, literally left people in the cold. Then, this year, Nest announced that it would stop supporting the Revolv, a smart home hub that it acquired along with a smart appliance firm of the same name in 2014.

Should have told them it was going to be a bank ATM.

All of these announcements served, in some capacity, to highlight problems consumers are having with the smart home market. It sounds pretty great to have thermostats, light bulbs, ovens, and security systems that anticipate our every move.

The reality has been something less wonderful — a fractured market of occasionally buggy appliances that work with some, but not all, of the systems out there.

And, perhaps most tellingly, despite the public problems Nest was facing, no single company has positioned itself as an alternative.

So beyond the early adopters, consumers are hesitant to join the smart home movement. For people who don’t have the time to sort out whether their light bulb will talk to their smart speaker — and to come up with passwords for all those accounts — the smart home still seems to be part of a future best left to the “Jetsons.”

The glitches never help, and I suspect the total surveillance system isn't going over well in the home, either. Phone is one thing.

The smart home market is promisingbut that, by definition, means it’s an area with its fullest potential ahead of it. Amazon’s Echo, the forthcoming Google Home, and the rumored ‘‘Siri-in-a-box’’ are all appealing because of what they could do down the line — act as the personal concierge that can follow you from your home to your car to your workplace.

Maybe we no longer have the money for this stuff.

But right now, these home hubs feel like a novelty rather than an essential part of our lives. And without firms such as Nest pushing those developments, hubs lose a great deal of appeal. Even the greatest hub needs spokes....


Look who fell out of the nest. 

Thankfully no one can hack the thing:

"If Mark Zuckerberg can be a hacking victim, so can you" by Katie Rogers New York Times  June 07, 2016

NEW YORK —A collective that calls itself OurMine boasted that it had broken into a handful of his social media accounts, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Screengrabs posted by Engadget showed the hackers notifying Zuckerberg of the breach using his own Twitter account. Bold move.

“We are just testing your security,” the tweet read.

LinkedIn declined to address whether the hack was the result of a larger data breach in 2012 that compromised over 100 million accounts. LinkedIn has taken steps to invalidate passwords from older accounts, but the breach against Zuckerberg shows that some accounts, especially those that are old or dormant, remain at risk.

In a statement e-mailed by a spokesman Monday, Facebook said Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram accounts had not been breached.

Graham Cluley, an online security expert and consultant, said, “It shows it can happen to anyone — even geeks.”

There are several lessons to be learned.


Also see:

"American Science and Engineering Inc., the Massachusetts maker of X-ray detection machines, announced it was acquired for $269 million Tuesday morning by OSI Systems Inc., which also makes electronic security systems for airports and other homeland security settings. American Science makes X-ray screeners for use in airports and in ports and border crossings to combat drug smuggling and illegal immigration. OSI chief executive Deepak Chopra said the addition of American Science’s “expanded security scanning business unit,” its X-ray technology, fits the company’s expansion plans and will enable the combined company to attract more clients...."

I'm always last to board, and they failed when it comes to drugs and the illegals. 

So what is in the reading rack as we head into the sky?

"‘Silicon Valley arrogance’? Google misfires as it strives to turn Star Trek fiction into reality" by Charles Piller, June 6, 2016

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google employees, squeezed onto metal risers and standing in the back of a meeting room, erupted in cheers as newly arrived executive Andrew Conrad announced they would try to turn science fiction into reality: The tech giant had formed a biotech venture to create a futuristic device like Star Trek’s iconic “Tricorder” diagnostic wizard — and use it to cure cancer.

Conrad, recalled an employee who was present, displayed images on the room’s big screens showing nanoparticles tracking down cancer cells in the bloodstream and flashing signals to a Fitbit-style wristband. He promised a working prototype of the cancer early-detection device within six months.

That was three years ago. Recently departed employees said the prototype didn’t work as hoped, and the Tricorder project is floundering.

Tricorder is not the only misfire for Google’s ambitious and extravagantly funded biotech venture, now named Verily Life Sciences. It has announced three signature projects meant to transform medicine, and a STAT examination found that all of them are plagued by serious, if not fatal, scientific shortcomings, even as Verily has vigorously promoted their promise.

I was thinking about this while reading it, and what you need to understand is this fills two purposes. 

If the money dumped into these things results in a successful project then the New World Order -- for lack of a better term -- then it will be adopted, applied, and funded further by government as well as private industry.

If the projects result in failure, well, at least a load of loot will have gone to well-connected companies and concerns and those individuals that will also benefit. Nothing lost, really. Far be it that the money should be spent on social services or improving the lot of American citizens.

The Tricorder, as Conrad and others at Verily call the device, is “in the realm of not only science fiction, but beyond that — science fantasy,” said David Walt, a Tufts University chemistry professor and nanoscience expert who met with Verily scientists and engineers last year to share his concerns. “And I’m not sure it will ever be science reality.” 

I'm a big Star Trek fan, too (classic series).

The company has also touted a glucose-sensing contact lens as a substitute for frequent blood tests on diabetics, but independent experts said it is scientifically dubious at best.

It claims a billion-dollar “Baseline” study of human health will define what it means to be healthy and help identify early signs of disease. But researchers said design weaknesses make these lofty goals far-fetched.

Largely through Verily, Google has positioned itself to be a giant in life sciences by marrying technology and big data with science to cure diseases that have, so far, defied the best minds. But its setbacks and prominent scientists’ skepticism call into question this vision of the future of medicine.

It doesn't stop the global warming train.

Verily insists it is forging ahead with the projects, though Conrad, the company’s CEO, and other executives are well aware of outside scientists’ criticism.

Conrad and other Verily leaders declined interview requests. But in a written response to questions from STAT, the company strongly defended its record.


STAT previously documented a significant departure of top talent from Verily under its divisive leader, Conrad, and ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns regarding Baseline. In more recent interviews, some former employees said they had voiced doubts about projects Verily was pursuing and had been frozen out of decision-making, while their concerns were brushed aside.

Verily appears to be having more success with less world-changing projects, but it still chooses to showcase its most ambitious ones — perhaps, some critics suggest, to promote itself as a company poised to defeat disease.

“One needs to balance how much these toys are used mostly for marketing and for giving a sense of a company really working on something impressive — the brave new world — or if we’re talking about something that will have clear and immediate clinical impact,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of disease prevention at Stanford University. “The latter is very hard to imagine.”

And I'm the conspiracy nut bar, right?

It’s axiomatic in Silicon Valley’s tech companies that if the math and the coding can be done, the product can be made. But seven former Verily employees said the company’s leadership often seems not to grasp the reality that biology can be more complex and less predictable than computers.

They said Conrad, who has a PhD in anatomy and cell biology, applies the confident impatience of computer engineering, along with extravagant hype, to biotech ideas that demand rigorous peer review and years or decades of painstaking work.

Verily said in response to this criticism that it has hired “many seasoned and respected industry, academic, public health, and regulatory veterans who understand the complexity of biology and how long it takes to move from idea to device and/or therapy.” 

It's Jurassic World, isn't it?

But Chad Mirkin, a Northwestern University biosensor and nanotechnology expert who has reviewed public statements and patents on the Tricorder, questioned whether the company had really internalized the fact that in the life sciences, a concept without a well-vetted technological pathway or rationale rarely succeeds.

“That’s a type of Silicon Valley arrogance,” he said. “That isn’t how science works.”


Google’s leap into the life sciences was just three months old when Conrad announced the Tricorder to his new colleagues. The company hadn’t yet developed expertise to critically assess the project’s scientific merits, but he revealed no doubts.

It was pure Conrad, former Verily managers said: Boast now, build later.

The biotech venture was housed in Google X — the company’s incubator for radical projects to solve big problems — which had rolled out the self-driving car and Google Glass eyeglass computer. So its engineers understandably reasoned, “Why not a Tricorder?” one of the former managers said. 

Related: I'm Beat

The car doesn't work so well, either, and you see who is in the back seat?

He and other former or current Google or Verily employees and contractors spoke to STAT on the condition they wouldn’t be identified because they signed nondisclosure agreements and wanted to protect ongoing relationships with the companies.

The self-driving car and other Google X projects were created in secret and vetted by experts for years before anyone outside the tight circle of inventors got so much as a peek.

Some would see conspiracy there.

But with his characteristic informal charm, Conrad rolled out the Tricorder to tech reporters in 2014, describing its scientific basis as proven. He predicted that high-risk patients would begin wearing the device within a few years, followed by widespread adoption.

Conrad said a patient would swallow a pill full of magnetic nanoparticles engineered to grab on to tumor cells floating in the bloodstream and light up when they do. A wristband magnet would concentrate the particles and their captured cells inside adjacent veins, then periodically read their fluorescent signals. Conrad said most of the system operated seamlessly in the lab.

“We’ve done a lot, to be quite humble about it. Enough to give us great confidence that this is all likely to work,” he told Backchannel, an online journal.

Aye, verily!

The particles were so safe, he said, that animal testing could be skipped. Conrad provided no details beyond conceptual patents, and Verily scientists have published no scholarly papers on the device. Still, media coverage portrayed Google’s upstart biotech venture as the vanguard of a medical revolution.

Walt, the Tufts nanoscience expert, was skeptical when he saw the media coverage of the Tricorder, and offered to share his expertise with a friend, Jeff Huber, who was then a Google X executive. Huber, now head of Grail, a startup also focused on detecting early signs of cancer, invited Walt to visit Verily last August.

The Verily team listened carefully to Walt’s concerns during two hours of discussions, he said in a recent interview, and he came away impressed with the company’s scientists and engineers — but not with the Tricorder.

He ticked off challenges confronting the Tricorder team.

Accurately detecting incredibly rare tumor cells via remote sensors would require “a real transformation in our capabilities from where we are today,” he said. Getting nanoparticles to circulate for long periods would be tough, because the body directs them from the bloodstream into the liver or other organs.

Cancer cells also can absorb nanoparticles, obliterating their detection powers. Magnetic tracking might cause clots by altering blood flow, Walt said, and the Tricorder would require years of animal and human safety testing, contrary to Conrad’s assertions.

Walt also questioned whether the continuous monitoring Conrad proposes offers advantages over safer, promising alternatives, such as testing blood samples for early signs of cancer. A number of companies are racing to develop this liquid biopsy technology, though it, too, faces challenges. (Walt is scientific founder of Quanterix, a Massachusetts firm that builds related diagnostic tools.)

Stanford’s Ioannidis raised a different concern. “Screening asymptomatic people (for cancer) has met with so many failures and so many problems — including overdiagnosis,” he said. For example, a few stray cancer cells in the blood are thought to be common in people, but might pose no significant risk of future disease. Inevitable errors in test sensitivity — false-positive results — could suggest cancer when none is present, leading some patients to needlessly undergo treatments that can cause harmful side effects.

It's built into the $y$tem already.

In its written statement, Verily sounded far more cautious about the Tricorder’s prospects than Conrad has been, saying the “very early-stage” project is “ambitious and difficult,” with “unsolved technical challenges. It’s our aspiration, with our partners, to solve these challenges, even if it takes years.”

In recent months, four former Verily employees said, the Tricorder has been seen internally more as a way to generate buzz than as a viable project.

That's where my print stopped buzzing.


All the hype around Verily has led some scientists and biotech industry experts to dare compare Verily to Theranos, the troubled blood-testing firm whose CEO Elizabeth Holmes became a media star and billionaire on paper before a series of Wall Street Journal articles cast doubts on its core technology. 

I've given all I can.

UC Berkeley business professor Jo-Ellen Pozner said most biotech firms operate stealthily at first, and when they court publicity, they generally “have some muscle to back it up.” Theranos and Verily are exceptions. Their high-profile, media-savvy leaders made big claims without peer-review validation or real proof.

Conrad, who has a sign on his desk saying “do epic shit,” told a tech reporter in a 2014 interview that his nascent firm was “punching way above our weight, and we may have a chance to turn this battleship of health care around.”

“I think about it as the vaporware culture,” Pozner said, using slang for announced technology products that don’t actually exist — a ploy often used to scare competing firms away from a market opportunity.

Yeah, “cure cancer, get a trip to Hawaii.”


"Federal panel approves first use of CRISPR in humans" by Sharon Begley, June 21, 2016

The technique that will be used in the study, CRISPR-Cas9, burst on the scene in 2012, when scientists showed it could be used to "edit" genomes. It consists of several molecules: One that makes a beeline for the specific DNA that scientists want to change, another snips out that DNA, and -- for some uses -- a third replaces that DNA, much like a word processor's "find and replace" function.

It had been widely expected that the first human use of CRISPR would be a 2017 clinical trial by Editas Medicine, which announced last year that it plans to use CRISPR to try to treat a rare form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis. Only a few hundred people in the US have that disease.

The possibility that a study siccing CRISPR on cancer will happen first suggests that the revolutionary genome-editing technology might be used against common diseases sooner than once thought.

Members of the committee were almost unanimously enthusiastic about the proposal.

Biochemist Paula Cannon of the University of Southern California called it “innovative,” and said the Penn scientists had adequately addressed the questions she had about the safety of the procedure, including how they would tell whether CRISPR accidentally cuts the wrong genes, a problem called off-target effects.

In a technique that several companies are competing to commercialize, traditional genetic engineering alters T cells extracted from patients so that the cells produce a “chimeric antigen receptor,” or CAR.

I'm $tarting to feel $ick about all this.

Once the T cells are infused back into patients, that CAR lets the cells find molecules called antigens, which protrude from tumor cells, like a key fitting a lock. If all goes well, the T cells would destroy the tumors.

Need I type it?

Unfortunately, although that and other studies have found promising results with genetically-engineered T’s, the cells have been shown to work only on some cancers (mostly leukemias and other blood cancers), with disappointing results in solid tumors. Many patients who respond eventually see their cancer return, possibly because tumors begin repelling the T cells.

The Penn trial would use CRISPR to slice out two genes in T cells to hopefully prevent recurrence and help the treatment last longer.

One committee member expressed concern about financial conflicts of interest.


Penn’s Dr. Carl June, a pioneer in the use of T cells against cancer [and] inventor of CAR T cells that fight cancer [who] holds several patents on them, is a scientific advisor to immunotherapy companies including Celldex Therapeutics, and has been a paid speaker for Novartis, which is developing CAR T therapies.

Related: Globe Put This in Your CAR-T

“Penn does have an infamous history in this regard,” said Dr. Lainie Ross of the University of Chicago, referring to a gene therapy study at Penn in which a study volunteer died in 1999 and the lead scientist had a financial interest in the experimental therapy....



Related: China's Dr. Frankenstein

The 21st-century version is Dr. Haurwitz

What would expect from a paper that at bottom endorses such things?


"Juno Therapeutics, a pioneer in the sizzling field of treating cancer by revving up the immune system, on Thursday said it had halted development of its lead treatment after three patient deaths, dealing a blow to a promising but still unproven approach to oncology called CAR-T immunotherapy...."

Globe didn't want you to know that!