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Science & Tech

New Year’s Resolution for the Federal Government: Make It Easy to Complete Federal Forms Electronically

The federal government maintains thousands of forms that citizens, businesses and state and local governments must fill out, but many of these forms are available only on paper. Case in point: the IRS. The start of a new year marks the beginning of tax season as businesses, non-profits and individuals must begin preparing a number of tax documents in advance of upcoming filing deadlines. Over the years completing tax forms has become easier as the IRS has implemented digital forms for filers and electronic filing options, including the very successful Free File program that partners with private tax service providers  to provide free software for online tax preparation and filing. But while the IRS has made a lot of progress in some areas, it remains woefully outdated in others. One example of this is the 1099-MISC form which businesses (including households who hire self-employed workers, like a housekeeper) must submit for all vendors, contractors, etc. to which they paid more than $600 per year. ... Read the rest

Energy Innovation: The Proper Definition and Why it’s So Crucial

Originally posted at Consumer Energy Report.

Innovation is Central to Making Clean Energy Cheap

The United States and the world face an urgent imperative to transform its energy system by developing and deploying low or zero-carbon technologies on a dramatic scale. And while developed regions like the United States and Europe might be willing to change their consumption patterns  and businesses to incorporate clean energy (though not significantly), developing nations can’t afford to pay the necessary premium for this access. And they shouldn’t have to, as they try to gain access to energy of any kind. As such, the only way the entire global energy system can transition to clean energy is if its cost is lower and its performance is equal to or greater than cheap fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and oil.

Unfortunately, today’s clean energy technologies like wind, solar, electric vehicles, smart grids, and energy storage are more expensive and oftentimes performance-limited compared to their fossil competitors. Solar and wind power are intermittent without energy storage and still require significant advances in energy conversion efficiency. Electric vehicles are up to double the cost of comparable

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5 Q’s on Data Innovation with Dr. Dan Riskin

Dr. Riskin is the CEO of Health Fidelity, a leading provider of natural language processing solutions. He is also a Consulting Assistant Professor of Surgery at Stanford University and practices one day a week out of the Stanford affiliate hospitals. I recently had the opportunity to get his thoughts on how data-driven innovations are transforming the health care industry.

Castro: In what ways do you see data changing health care today?

Riskin: Data is used daily to define a new generation of healthcare. Not only do patients do research on the internet, request medical support by e-mail (in some systems), and share their own medical stories online, but the actual care delivered now includes apps and remote technologies that offer supplemental care. The most fundamental change related to healthcare is the redefinition of practice, often known as data-driven healthcare. Data-driven healthcare is a big data approach to healthcare, leveraging information learned from treating millions of patients to personalize care for the few. This turns a half century of medical practice using evidence based medicine on its head. Instead of defining care for millions based on a randomized trial performed

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Do Not Call Graphic

Repeat After Me: “Do Not Track is NOT Do Not Call”

I’ve got to give it to the privacy advocates—for all their complaints about advertising, they are some of the world’s best marketers. Consider the success of an idea like “Privacy by Design” which is a feel-good buzzword, but is virtually meaningless as practical policy. But the biggest marketing success among privacy advocates has got to be “Do Not Track”, a fundamentally flawed concept which has proved itself resilient mostly because of its passing resemblance to the incredibly popular, but wholly unrelated, “Do Not Call” list. The notion that “Do Not Track” is related to “Do Not Call” is an idea that simply refuses to die. I saw this most recently in an article in The New York Times about Peter Swire who was just named the new co-chair of the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group, the group working to create a “Do Not Track” standard. ... Read the rest

Bill Day

5 Q’s on Data Innovation with Bill Day

Bill Day is the platform evangelist for RunKeeper, a Boston-based start-up that helps users track and obtain their fitness goals. I asked Bill to share with me his thoughts on how data is changing how people exercise, work towards fitness goals, and monitor their health. Castro: As a runner myself, I am a huge fan of RunKeeper. Can you tell me how RunKeeper got started? Day: One of our founders, Jason Jacobs, was training for a marathon and realized that there had to be a better way to track and understand his training and performance than the very limited options available at the time. He pulled together a small team to build an iPhone app to solve that problem, and the timing was great as we were able to launch in the very early days of the App Store. Castro: RunKeeper recently launched the Health Graph platform. Can you explain what that is? ... Read the rest

mark whitehorn

Five Q’s on Data Innovation with Mark Whitehorn

Mark Whitehorn is s the professor of analytics at the University of Dundee’s School of Computing in Scotland and the author of ten books on business intelligence. I spoke to Mark about how higher-ed programs are adapting to new demands in the era of Big Data. Castro: What kinds of skills do data scientists need? Whitehorn: They need to be intelligent! Oh, I see, you want specifics! They need to be good at designing new analytical techniques and be able to code them. The job also includes general skills (e.g., excellent analytical capabilities, machine learning, data mining, statistics, math, algorithm development, writing coding, data visualisation, and understanding multi-dimensional database design and implementation) and specific skills such as technologies to handle big data (e.g., Hadoop and related technologies, MapReduce and its implementation on differing software platforms, and NoSQl databases) and knowledge of languages (e.g., SQL, MDX, R, and functional and OOP languages such as Erlang and Java). ... Read the rest

Peter Cowhey

Thoughts from ITIF Event on Cloud Computing in Developing Economies

Yesterday, ITIF hosted a great event with Peter Cowhey and Michael Kleeman of UC San Diego on the impact of cloud computing on developing economies. Peter and Michael recently completed a three country study that examined how cloud computing is changing how businesses and government work in India, Mexico and South Africa. In particular, they noted the important role of cloud computing in creating high value-added commerce, strengthening small and medium enterprises, and promoting job growth in developing economies by leveling the playing field for technology suppliers in the Global South.

For example, Peter described how in 2011 the Mexican government doubled the capacity of its e-government portal while overall lowering costs. And now, Mexico is moving its largest social welfare systems all into the cloud “because you can’t build out government services in an effective cost structure in rural Mexico without this.” Or consider South Africa, where SMEs have been able to scale rapidly by using cloud-based CRM products like Salesforce. These types of savings add up, and Peter estimated that the cost savings for IT capacity (which is a significant cost in these firms) is being cut by

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Lynn Etheredge

5 Q’s on Data Innovation with Lynn Etheredge

Lynn Etheredge is an independent consultant on health care and social policy issues and heads the Rapid Learning Project at George Washington University in Washington, DC. I asked Lynn to share with me his thoughts on how health care research is changing as a result of the increased use of data. Castro: How will rapid learning health networks change how health care research is performed? Etheredge: Traditionally, health research has relied on in vitro and in vivo methods—lab work and animal and human experiments. The rapid-learning networks add in silicoresearch—using computerized databases and networks with individual-level, clinically rich, and longitudinal data from millions of patients captured in electronic health records.Francis Collins, NIH’s director, has recently proposed a new national patient-centered research network with 20-30 million patients. As discussed in a recent report—Toward Precision Medicine (National Academy of Sciences, 2012)—this will revolutionize biomedical research, clinical practice, and public health. Read the rest

The Tech Industry’s Odd Relationship with Government

Two recent posts on TechCrunch about tech industry efforts to influence and work with government deserve comment, because one clearly shows the right way to go while the other just as clearly exemplifies the wrong way. We’ll take them in time sequence, starting with how not to do things.

Three geeks go into a bar. Several drinks later, they determine that all it takes to solve the world’s problems is a new web site to crowdsource amendments to acts of Congress.

If you’ve been following technogeek efforts at leveraging the Web to magnify tech political influence for very long, you’ve heard this story several times. Larry Lessig, Tim Wu, and their cronies at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society have been on this mission since the turn of the century. They’ve been joined by the folks who believed blogs were going to change the world, such as the founders of Personal Democracy Forum and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, an early investor in blogging platform Moveable Type. When congressman Darrell Issa wrote his alternative to SOPA, the OPEN Act

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Privacy Complaint in the Silly Season

As this is a presidential election year, it’s not surprising that the the “silly season” of politics has been extended into the baseball playoffs. A group of political extremists organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has filed a complaint with the FCC over the privacy disclosures for an old  consumer broadband measurement program. This isn’t the program that the Commission conducts every year with Sam Knows that leads to an annual report comparing actual broadband speeds to advertised ones, but to a program that was developed by the National Broadband Plan some three years ago to provide the team with a snapshot of performance.

The letter has me wondering whether the advocates: (a) Have just come out of a three year coma; and (b) Have any idea at all about how the Internet works. There are also some distortions of law that will slap attorneys in the face. Please read the letter, but sit down first so you don’t hurt yourself rolling on the floor laughing at its circular logic.

Like many government programs that collect information that might be considered personal and sensitive, the FCC’s broadband measurement program

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