A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 19, 2022

Covid Is No the Longer Biggest Issue Facing Hospitals. Staffing Is

The protocols for dealing with Covid patients are now established. And omicron is not as severe as the earlier variants were. 

But the pressure on hospital workers remains burdensome, especially as the great resignation feeds on itself due to short staffing, overwork for those who remain as well as the attendant frustration and stress. The result is that many with key skills are leaving the profession, while those who remain understandably want better compensation. If the situation is not addressed strategically, the healthcare system will have to reconsider its priorities. JL 

Dan Michelson reports in Stat, Image by Elaine Thompson, AP:

While every industry is currently facing staffing problems, the issue in health care is especially acute due to the demands and burnout on the front lines of care through the last two years. Hospitals are seeing increases in early retirements, job changes, and exits to other professions. New York and California are each projected to fall short by 500,000 health care workers by 2026. Hospitals are also seeing major increases in wages and incremental costs due to the need for agency and traveling nurses, whose rates come at a 200% to 300% premium. Staff salaries represent 50% of a hospital’s budget.

You Can Now Rent A Robot For Less Than You Pay A Human Worker

Renting or leasing rather than purchasing robots reduces the upfront cost significantly and thus makes it more manageable for smaller businesses to automate. 

Given the current workforce shortages, the impact on automation growth and speed could be dramatic. JL  

Will Knight reports in Wired:

Formic buys standard robot arms, and leases them along with its own software. They’re among a small but growing number of robots finding their way into workplaces on a pay-as-you-go basis. The robot costs the equivalent of $8 per hour, compared with a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a human employee. That Polar didn’t need to pay $100,000 upfront to buy the robot, and then spend more money to get it programmed, was crucial. The robot-as-employee approach could help automation spread into smaller businesses more rapidly by changing the economics.

How An AI Has Been Granted A Patent Credit For the First Time

The system was presented with an opportunity to create a solution to a problem. It was not instructed to design a specific product. 

The design met the criteria for a patentable innovation before the inventor was revealed. The law was then applied and in two countries, the patent was granted to the AI. While some countries are insisting a human has to be the inventor for a patent to be granted, there is growing belief that AI's will increasingly be recognized as inventors. JL 

Kathy Pretz reports in IEEE Spectrum:

The South African and Australian patent offices made history when they issued a patent that listed an artificial intelligence system as the inventor. The patent is for a food container that uses fractal designs to create pits and bulges in its sides (which) allows containers to fit more tightly together so they can be transported better. The shape also makes it easier for robotic arms to pick up the containers. "AI is automating activity that makes a human being an inventor on a patent. “There was no law on it. Just a bunch of assumptions.”

The Reason 5G Cellphones Are Causing Airlines To Threaten Flight Delays

Given the history of tech companies dismissing concerns standing in the way of profitable deployments, the potentially catastrophic impact if the airlines and FAA's fears turn out to be right - and the pressure under which the entire system is operating due to Covid - prudence would appear to be the logical and appropriate course. 

Humanity can live without 5G for the few weeks or even months required to assure that the new capability is compatible with air safety. JL

Rebecca Heilweil reports in Re/code:

The FAA is worried 5G could interfere with radio altimeters, aircraft safety tools that rely on nearby airwaves. Altimeters are especially useful on a cloudy day or in a mountainous area, when pilots can’t see where they’re landing.The agency is so concerned that it’s been fighting to delay 5G deployment and has issued guidance that could cause flight cancellations from airports operating near 5G antennas.Wireless carriers and airlines agreed to test how well some radio altimeters perform in real-world conditions, and the FAA is continuing to lift restrictions on aircraft as airlines prove their altimeters can work when C-band is turned on.

Pfizer's New Covid Pill Works Against Omicron In Tests

Given the continued spread of omicron and the persistently high levels of vaccine refusal, especially in the US, this could be quite helpful. JL 

Jared Hopkins reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Pfizer's new Covid-19 pill, Paxlovid, was effective against the Omicron variant in laboratory tests, an encouraging early sign the drug will be an important tool. Pfizer said Tuesday the drug’s main component, nirmatrelvir, worked in three separate laboratory studies. Patients take two tablets of nirmatrelvir with one tablet of another antiviral called ritonavir twice a day for five days. The FDA authorized Paxlovid’s use in people at high risk of severe Covid-19. The pill is a valuable addition to Covid-19 medicine because  people who are newly infected can easily take it at home to avoid becoming hospitalized.

Why Startups With Flat Organizational Structures Often Fail

In an age of transcendent human and intellectual capital, where collaboration is often a key driver of success, flat organizational structures are often appealing to founders and venture investors because they appear to sideslip messy arguments about who's leading whom which can enhance the risk losing essential talent.

The problem with that theory, research shows, is that flat organizational structures can flatline a startup once it starts growing beyond initial hires. The reason is primarily that there comes a point where individual initiatives have to be sublimated to the greater good of the enterprise. To achieve operational and financial goals in order to optimize outcomes, it is necessary for decisive leadership to lead. JL 

Knowledge@Wharton interviews Prof. Saerom Lee:

Startups with flat organizational structures often fail. Lee found most successful businesses that begin with a flat structure start creating levels of management when they reach 20 or 30 employees. At that size, good managers step in. Without supervision, employees may lose direction, drift into endless exploration, create projects they aren’t capable of accomplishing, and fight with each other. “While a flat hierarchy can foster creativity, it can lead to dysfunction, turnover and commercial failure. No matter how good the business idea or how brilliant the team, mismanagement can ultimately kill their business.”

Jan 18, 2022

Pfizer, Moderna Now Expect Everyone To Get Seasonal Covid Boosters, Maybe Combined With Flu Shot

Not unexpected. 

And did anyone really expect them to argue - after the most profitable year in either company's history - that no further booster vaccinations are necessary? JL

Beth Mole reports in ars technica:

Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech expect boosters will be used as annual shots, which could be given in the fall for the next several years until global transmission dies down. "Our goal is to have a single annual booster so that we don't have people getting two to three shots a winter." As for when they might be ready, "the best-case scenario would be fall of 2023." It's too early to know if people who recover from omicron will be protected from getting omicron in the future. Boosters increase antibody responses, and protection remains strong against severe disease, hospitalizations, and death from omicron and other variants.