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Every Tuesday, Jessica Ramgoolam heads down to the New Amsterdam branch of the New York City Public Library, sets up a small folding table, and takes a seat with her laptop. She lays out piles of paper flyers, and it’s clear she has information to share, like a fortune teller awaiting a passing seeker.

Just before 11 a.m., when the library opens, people may begin lining up for her assistance. With the aid of her team, she can communicate with people in nearly 20 languages, and her iPhone can help her manage many more.

Though she holds no unique powers of foresight, Ramgoolam represents for many the keys to the future. Sitting behind a bright yellow sign reading “GetCoveredNYC,” she’s there to help people—anyone—enroll in health care.

Determining what programs you might be eligible for, gathering the bewildering amount of information required for different applications, and navigating the submission process is a headache, even for the most administratively savvy.

That’s true even though most New Yorkers have already submitted information about their income and employment to the city many times over, and more and more residents get regular updates from and about the city government through websites, phone calls, chatbots, text messages, Twitter, email, Facebook and Instagram, livestreams, TV, and radio—all of which are used to communicate everything from emergency notifications to trash collection schedules. Not to mention the overwhelming volume of information online devoted specifically to the several public health-care plans available.

But even with those programs and a variety of tax credits, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the city who do not have health insurance.

It’s a reality of politics that is often overlooked: once a law is passed, it needs to evolve from an idea into a plan with a budget and a staff, and from there it needs to actually reach the lives of millions of people. Moving from policy to implementation has always been a hard part of governing, but today it’s easy to assume technology can make it easier.

Yet even as technology presents unprecedented opportunities to bridge the gap between government programs and the people they serve, it also brings unprecedented challenges. How do we modernize without leaving people behind? How do we increase access without unduly burdening citizens? How do we increase efficiency and make services easier to use while still protecting sensitive data?

Today, technology is both an instrument and a medium of government, and in turn, it’s transforming the way citizens and states interact with each other. And it’s essential, even urgent, that governments understand this relationship—and how easily it can be broken, even by the tools meant to bolster it. After all, civic technology has the power to help, but not everything can be technologically simplified. Not everything can be automated. Bureaucrats can make forms all day long, but they are useless if people don’t know how to use them—or if they don’t even have the resources to access them or fill them out.

Which is why, every week, Ramgoolam supports uninsured New Yorkers as they navigate the ever growing, ever changing, always tangled web of online forms that promise access to affordable care.

“I’ve come across, in my lifetime, so many folks who have had many detrimental issues with the health insurance system,” she told me. “What motivates me is how great it makes me feel to know that I’ve succeeded in helping someone.”

New York City is something of a test lab for strategies to confront some big problems that plague the modern state. Akin to a country in the budget and bureaucratic complexity of its government, it is, and has been, dealing with the key question of how to make government work for people today. And through its experimentation, it is finding that sometimes the solution to doing big things also involves doing a lot of small things, sometimes with the lowest tech possible: a human sitting behind a table.

“Why can’t we just …?”

When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration was heralded as more technologically savvy than any that had come before. At the dawn of Web 2.0 and with immense faith in the power of technology to do big things, it hired the country’s first chief information officer, started the US Digital Service to modernize the executive branch, and issued a directive to “build a 21st-century digital government.” Technology was envisioned as a key to the administration’s ambitious plan for expanding access to health insurance.

Yet when Healthcare.gov launched in 2013, after three years of work and a cost of more than $300 million, the website crashed. Fewer than 10 people were able to enroll on the first day.

In the years since, the Healthcare.gov fiasco has turned into a sort of

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By: Tate Ryan-Mosley
Title: Why New York City is embracing low-tech solutions to hard problems
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/10/18/1081374/new-york-city-government-low-tech-solutions-hard-problems/
Published Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2023 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/this-microbe-filled-pill-could-track-inflammation-in-the-gut/

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Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves

ICD ITKE HygroShell2022 P01a scaled

Humanity has long sought to tame wood into something more predictable. Sawmills manufacture lumber from trees selected for consistency. Wood is then sawed into standard sizes and dried in kilns to prevent twisting, cupping, or cracking. Generations of craftsmen have employed sophisticated techniques like dovetail joinery, breadboard ends, and pocket flooring to keep wood from distorting in their finished pieces.

But wood is inherently imprecise. Its grain reverses and swirls. Trauma and disease manifest in scars and knots.

Instead of viewing these natural tendencies as liabilities, Achim Menges, an architect and professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, sees them as wood’s greatest assets. Menges and his team at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction are uncovering new ways to build with the material by using computational design—which relies on algorithms and data to simulate and predict how wood will behave within a structure long before it is built. He hopes this work will enable architects to create more sustainable and affordable timber buildings by reducing the amount of wood required.

Menges’s recent work has focused on creating “self-shaping” timber structures like the HygroShell, which debuted at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2023. Constructed from prefabricated panels of a common building material known as cross-laminated timber, HygroShell morphed over a span of five days, unfurling into a series of interlaced sheets clad with wooden scale-like shingles that stretched to cover the structure as it expanded. Its final form, designed as a proof of concept, is a delicately arched canopy that rises to nearly 33 feet (10 meters) but is only an inch thick. In a time-lapse video, the evolving structure resembles a bird stretching its wings.

HygroShell takes its name from hygroscopicity, a property of wood that causes it to absorb or lose moisture with humidity changes. As the material dries, it contracts and tends to twist and curve. Traditionally, lumber manufacturers have sought to minimize these movements. But through computational design, Menges’s team can predict the changes and structure the material to guide it into the shape they want.

“From the start, I was motivated to understand computation not as something that divides the physical and the digital world but, instead, that deeply connects them.”

Achim Menges, architect and professor, University of Stuttgart in Germany

The result is a predictable and repeatable process that creates tighter curves with less material than what can be attained through traditional construction techniques. Existing curved structures made from cross-laminated timber (also known as mass timber) are limited to custom applications and carry premium prices, Menges says. Self-shaping, in contrast, could offer industrial-scale production of curved mass timber structures for far less cost.

To build HygroShell, the team created digital profiles of hundreds of freshly sawed boards using data about moisture content, grain orientation, and more. Those parameters were fed into modeling software that predicted how the boards were likely to distort as they dried and simulated how to arrange them to achieve the desired structure. Then the team used robotic milling machines to create the joints that held the panels together as the piece unfolded.

“What we’re trying to do is develop design methods that are so sophisticated they meet or match the sophistication of the material we deal with,” Menges says.

Menges views “self-shaping,” as he calls his technique, as a low-energy way of creating complex curved architectures that would otherwise be too difficult to build on most construction sites. Typically, making curves requires extensive machining and a lot more materials, at considerable cost. By letting the wood’s natural properties do the heavy lifting, and using robotic machinery to prefabricate the structures, Menges’s process allows for thin-walled timber construction that saves material and money.

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By: John Wiegand
Title: Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/24/1093513/achim-menges-architect-wood-buildings-sustainability/
Published Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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Tech

The Download: hyperrealistic deepfakes, and using math to shape wood

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Synthesia’s hyperrealistic deepfakes will soon have full bodies

Startup Synthesia’s AI-generated avatars are getting an update to make them even more realistic: They will soon have bodies that can move, and hands that gesticulate.

The new full-body avatars will be able to do things like sing and brandish a microphone while dancing, or move from behind a desk and walk across a room. They will be able to express more complex emotions than previously possible, like excitement, fear, or nervousness.

These new capabilities, which are set to launch toward the end of the year, will add a lot to the illusion of realism. That’s a scary prospect at a time when deepfakes and online misinformation are proliferating. Read the full story and watch our reporter’s avatars meet each other.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves

Humanity has long sought to tame wood into something more predictable, but it is inherently imprecise. Its grain reverses and swirls. Trauma and disease manifest in scars and knots.

Instead of viewing these natural tendencies as liabilities, Achim Menges, an architect and professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, sees them as wood’s greatest assets.

Menges and his team at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction are uncovering new ways to build with wood by using algorithms and data to simulate and predict how wood will behave within a structure long before it is built. He hopes this will help create more sustainable and affordable timber buildings by reducing the amount of wood required. Read our story all about him and his work.

—John Wiegand

This story is from the forthcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. It’s set to go live on Wednesday June 26, so if you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Live: How generative AI could transform games

Generative AI could soon revolutionize how we play video games, creating characters that can converse with you freely, and experiences that are infinitely detailed, twisting and changing every time you experience them.

Together, these could open the door to entirely new kinds of in-game interactions that are open-ended, creative, and unexpected. One day, the games we love playing may not have to end. Read our executive editor Niall Firth’s story all about what that future could look like. 

If you want to learn more, register now to join our next exclusive subscriber-only Roundtable discussion at 11.30ET today! Niall and our editorial director Allison Arieff will be talking about games without limits, the future of play, and much more.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Big Tech firms are going all-in on experimental clean energy projects
Due to the fact AI is so horribly polluting. But the projects range from ‘long shot’ to ‘magical thinking’. (WP $)
Making the grid smarter, rather than bigger, could help. (Semafor)
How virtual power plants are shaping tomorrow’s energy system. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Google is about to be hit with a ton of AI-related lawsuits
Its AI Overviews keep libeling people—and they’re lawyering up. (The Atlantic $)
Why Google’s AI Overviews gets things wrong. (MIT Technology Review)
Another AI-powered search engine, Perplexity, is running into the exact same issues. (Wired $)
Worst of all? There’s currently no way to fix the underlying problem. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Apple is exploring a deal with Meta
To integrate Meta’s generative AI models into Apple Intelligence. (Wall Street Journal $)
Apple is delaying launching AI features in Europe due to regulatory concerns. (Quartz)

4 NASA is indefinitely delaying the return of Starliner
In order to give it more time to review data. (Ars Technica)

5 Chinese tech companies are pushing their staff beyond breaking point
As growth slows and competition rises, work-life balance is going out the window. (FT $)

6 Used electric vehicles are now less expensive than gas cars in the US
It’s a worrying statistic that reflects the cratering demand for EVs. (Insider $)
The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Check out these photos of San Francisco’s AI scene
The city is currently buzzing with people hoping to make their fortune off the back of the boom. (WP $)

8 The next wave of weight loss drugs is coming
The hope is that they might be cheaper, and come with fewer side effects. (NBC)

9 Elon Musk is obsessed with getting us to have more babies
He’s funding

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: hyperrealistic deepfakes, and using math to shape wood
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/24/1094179/the-download-hyperrealistic-deepfakes-math-shape-wood/
Published Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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Tech

Is this the end of animal testing?

In a clean room in his lab, Sean Moore peers through a microscope at a bit of intestine, its dark squiggles and rounded structures standing out against a light gray background. This sample is not part of an actual intestine; rather, it’s human intestinal cells on a tiny plastic rectangle, one of 24 so-called “organs on chips” his lab bought three years ago.

Moore, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, hopes the chips will offer answers to a particularly thorny research problem. He studies rotavirus, a common infection that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and even death in young children. In the US and other rich nations, up to 98% of the children who are vaccinated against rotavirus develop lifelong immunity. But in low-income countries, only about a third of vaccinated children become immune. Moore wants to know why.

His lab uses mice for some protocols, but animal studies are notoriously bad at identifying human treatments. Around 95% of the drugs developed through animal research fail in people. Researchers have documented this translation gap since at least 1962. “All these pharmaceutical companies know the animal models stink,” says Don Ingber, founder of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard and a leading advocate for organs on chips. “The FDA knows they stink.”

But until recently there was no other option. Research questions like Moore’s can’t ethically or practically be addressed with a randomized, double-blinded study in humans. Now these organs on chips, also known as microphysiological systems, may offer a truly viable alternative. They look remarkably prosaic: flexible polymer rectangles about the size of a thumb drive. In reality they’re triumphs of bioengineering, intricate constructions furrowed with tiny channels that are lined with living human tissues. These tissues expand and contract with the flow of fluid and air, mimicking key organ functions like breathing, blood flow, and peristalsis, the muscular contractions of the digestive system.

More than 60 companies now produce organs on chips commercially, focusing on five major organs: liver, kidney, lung, intestines, and brain. They’re already being used to understand diseases, discover and test new drugs, and explore personalized approaches to treatment.

As they continue to be refined, they could solve one of the biggest problems in medicine today. “You need to do three things when you’re making a drug,” says Lorna Ewart, a pharmacologist and chief scientific officer of Emulate, a biotech company based in Boston. “You need to show it’s safe. You need to show it works. You need to be able to make it.”

All new compounds have to pass through a preclinical phase, where they’re tested for safety and effectiveness before moving to clinical trials in humans. Until recently, those tests had to run in at least two animal species—usually rats and dogs—before the drugs were tried on people.

But in December 2022, President Biden signed the FDA Modernization Act, which amended the original FDA Act of 1938. With a few small word changes, the act opened the door for non-animal-based testing in preclinical trials. Anything that makes it faster and easier for pharmaceutical companies to identify safe and effective drugs means better, potentially cheaper treatments for all of us.

Moore, for one, is banking on it, hoping the chips help him and his colleagues shed light on the rotavirus vaccine responses that confound them. “If you could figure out the answer,” he says, “you could save a lot of kids’ lives.”

While many teams have worked on organ chips over the last 30 years, the OG in the field is generally acknowledged to be Michael Shuler, a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at Cornell. In the 1980s, Shuler was a math and engineering guy who imagined an “animal on a chip,” a cell culture base seeded with a variety of human cells that could be used for testing drugs. He wanted to position a handful of different organ cells on the same chip, linked to one another, which could mimic the chemical communication between organs and the way drugs move through the body. “This was science fiction,” says Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University whose lab works with cardiac tissue on chips. “There was no body on a chip. There is still no body on a chip. God knows if there will ever be a body on a chip.”

Shuler had hoped to develop a computer model of a multi-organ system, but there were too many unknowns. The living cell culture system he dreamed up was his bid to fill in the blanks. For a while he played with the concept, but the materials simply weren’t good enough to build what he imagined.

“You can force mice to menstruate, but it’s not really menstruation. You need the human being.”

Linda Griffith, founding

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By: Harriet Brown
Title: Is this the end of animal testing?
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/21/1093419/animal-testing-organ-on-chip-research/
Published Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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