Somewhere in PHE’s data pipeline, someone had used the wrong Excel file format, XLS rather than the more recent XLSX. And XLS spreadsheets simply don’t have that many rows: 2 to the power of 16, about 64,000. This meant that during some automated process, cases had vanished off the bottom of the spreadsheet, and nobody had noticed.
The idea of simply running out of space to put the numbers was darkly amusing. A few weeks after the data-loss scandal, I found myself able to ask Bill Gates himself about what had happened. Gates no longer runs Microsoft, and I was interviewing him about vaccines for a BBC program called How to Vaccinate The World. But the opportunity to have a bit of fun quizzing him about XLS and XLSX was too good to pass up.
I expressed the question in the nerdiest way possible, and Gates’s response was so strait-laced I had to smile: “I guess… they overran the 64,000 limit, which is not there in the new format, so…” Well, indeed. Gates then added, “It’s good to have people double-check things, and I’m sorry that happened.”
Exactly how the outdated XLS format came to be used is unclear. PHE sent me an explanation, but it was rather vague. I didn’t understand it, so I showed it to some members of Eusprig, the European Spreadsheet Risks Group. They spend their lives analyzing what happens when spreadsheets go rogue. They’re my kind of people. But they didn’t understand what PHE had told me, either. It was all a little light on detail.
The Illinois program gives people recovering from covid-19 a take-home kit that includes a pulse oximeter, a disposable Bluetooth-enabled sensor patch, and a paired smartphone. The software takes data from the wearable patch and uses machine learning to develop a profile of each person’s vital signs. The monitoring system alerts clinicians remotely when a patient’s vitals— such as heart rate—shift away from their usual levels.
Typically, patients recovering from covid might get sent home with a pulse oximeter. PhysIQ’s developers say their system is much more sensitive because it uses AI to understand each patient’s body, and its creators claim it is much more likely to anticipate important changes.
“It’s an enormous benefit,” says Terry Vanden Hoek, the chief medical officer and head of emergency medicine at University of Illinois Health, which is hosting the pilot. Working with covid cases is hard, he says: “When you work in the emergency department it’s sad to see patients who waited too long to come in for help. They would require intensive care on a ventilator. You couldn’t help but ask, ‘If we could have warned them four days before, could we have prevented all this?’”
Research is still in its early stage, but the last several months have seen a number of research efforts to increase the smartwatch’s illness detection capabilities. And it now looks like these tools will likely outlast the present pandemic.
Scripps Research has introduced an app called MyDataHelps as part of a study that tracks changes to a person’s sleep, activity level or resting heart rate. Fitbit is also building an algorithm that can detect COVID-19 before a person experiences symptoms. Meanwhile, Stanford Medicine researchers have developed a smartwatch alert system that can work on any wearable device, including Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin watches.
Michael Snyder, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics and director of Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford University, says watches can pick up signals of respiratory illnesses, even with asymptomatic cases. As COVID-19 hit, Snyder’s research increased “full blast,” he said.
A ransomware gang that hacked the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in April posted personnel records on Tuesday that revealed highly sensitive details for almost two dozen officers, including the results of psychological assessments and polygraph tests; driver’s license images; fingerprints; social security numbers; dates of birth; and residential, financial, and marriage histories.
The operators demanded $4 million in exchange for a promise not to publish any more information and provide a decryption key that would restore the data.
“You are a state institution, treat your data with respect and think about their price,” the operators said, according to the transcript. “They cost even more than 4,000,000, do you understand that?”
“Our final proposal is to offer to pay $100,000 to prevent the release of the stolen data,” the MPD negotiator eventually replied. “If this offer is not acceptable, then it seems our conversation is complete. I think we understand the consequences of not reaching an agreement. We are OK with that outcome.”
Among all households in 2018, 92% had at least one type of computer and 85% had a broadband internet subscription. The ACS considers desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones as computers, along with selected computing technologies such as smart home devices and single-board computers.
Smartphone ownership surpassed ownership of all other computing devices. Smartphones were present in 84% of households, while 78% of households owned a desktop or laptop. Tablet ownership fell behind at 63%.
Urban residents were more likely than rural residents to use computing devices (93% of urban households compared to 89% of rural households) and were more likely to have any sort of internet subscription (86% of urban households compared to 81% of rural households).
Cell maps are intended as tools for reviewing spreadsheets. If you spot an error or an inconsistency in the cell map this should be recorded and, if practicable, corrected.
The cell mapping software provides a method for recording a reviewer’s comments. All comments are linked to a specific map (or data table), The comments for a workbook under review are collated in a single worksheet.
Cowen cautioned that many technological advances would doubtlessly improve human welfare but still might not show up in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and productivity statistics. For example, the new plug-and-play vaccine platforms may well result in highly effective vaccines for malaria and HIV, and that would be a huge boon for millions of people living in poor countries, but those benefits would be unlikely to show up U.S. GDP per capita statistics. He also pointed out that the recent significant advances in green energy production are occurring chiefly as a way to avoid the possible catastrophe of man-made climate change. Because climate change is a hidden counterfactual, replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, and batteries would not necessarily lead people to feel as though their standard of living had risen.
Strain countered that the toll that infectious disease takes on the stunting of talents and skills in poor countries would be greatly ameliorated by rolling out cheap effective vaccines now made possible by messenger RNA technology. Over a longer time horizon, the U.S. and the rest of the world would significantly benefit from efflorescence of invention and entrepreneurship arising in regions whose development is held back by prevalent plagues.
The 14th Speculative Fiction Contest is over, and we now get to find out which story is the readers’ favorite!
Read each of the stories submitted by our creative and imaginative actuaries. Pick up to three of your favorite stories and vote for no more than three, so that we have a true Readers’ Choice Award. We will award the author of the story getting the most votes a specially designed Speculative Fiction Zoom background and an SOA branded gift. Be sure to tell your friends about this contest. Get them to read the stories and pick their favorites too!
Voting online must occur from March 8 – April 15. On May 1 this award, as well as all the other awards will be announced on the SOA website.
Jørgen Schøler Kristensen, Medical Director at Aarhus University Hospital, explains the error as follows:
– When patients with a civil registration number beginning with 0 had to be entered, the civil registration number was declared invalid if a hyphen was missing. So 26 percent of the civil registration numbers we have reported have not been entered correctly, so they have not received the invitation in their e-box to be vaccinated as they should have had, says Jørgen Schøler Kristensen.
Patients born the first nine days of any month and having been unlucky with a hyphen were forgotten.
Amazon is making its first foray into providing health care services, announcing Wednesday that it will be offering its Amazon Care telemedicine program to employers nationwide.
Currently available to the company’s employees in Washington state, Amazon Care is an app that connects users virtually with doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses who can provide services and treatment over the phone 24 hours a day. In the Seattle area, it’s supplemented with in-person services such as pharmacy delivery and house-call services from nurses who can take blood work and provide similar services.
On Wednesday, the tech giant announced it will immediately expand the service to interested employers in Washington who want to purchase the service for their employees. By the summer, Amazon Care will expand nationally to all Amazon workers, and to private employers across the country who want to join.