Archive for February, 2020

Why you can’t overlook the small details in the pursuit of innovation

This week, we read a very short story, The Great Silence, as we start to head toward the end of Ted Chiang’s Exhalation collection. This story asks questions about how we connect with nature, and also how to think about innovation and where new ideas come from. We will finish the remaining two stories in the collection in the coming week, and then it will be time (sadly!) to change books. I’ll announce the next book in the book club hopefully shortly. Some further quick notes: Want to join the conversation? Feel free to email me your thoughts at [email protected] (we got a real email address!) or join some of the discussions on Reddit or Twitter (hashtag TCBookClub) Follow these informal book club articles here: https://techcrunch.com/book-review/. That page also has a built-in RSS feed for posts exclusively in the Book Review category, which is very low volume. Feel free to add your comments in our TechCrunch comments section below this post. Reading The Great Silence This is a quite short story with a simple message. The narrator is a parrot discussing humanity’s quest to seek out artificial life elsewhere in the universe. The parrot, observing these actions, reflects on why humanity spends so much time looking for intelligence elsewhere, when it itself is intelligent, and located right next to us. The devastating line Chiang delivers comes toward the end: But parrots are more similar to humans than any extraterrestrial species ever will be, and humans can observe us up close; they can look us in the eye. How do they expect to recognize an alien intelligence if all they can do is eavesdrop from a hundred light-years away? The author offers us some obvious points to think about around environmental destruction and species extinction, and those are obvious enough that I think any reader can sort of surmise how the story connects to those issues. So I want to instead connect this discussion to a theme dear to the heart of TechCrunch readers, and that is the quest for science and innovation. To me, Chiang isn’t just criticizing our disdain for the animal species around us, but is also critiquing an innovation community that constantly strives for the big and “shiny” discoveries when so many smaller and local discoveries have yet to be made. We invest billions of dollars into satellites and telescopes and radar arrays hoping to capture some fleeting glimpse into an alien world somewhere in the galaxy. And yet, there are deeply alien worlds all around us. It’s not just parrots — Earth is filled with species that are incredibly different from us in physiology, behavior, and group dynamics. What if the species most alien to our own in the whole galaxy is located right under our noses? Of course, there would be huge headlines in finding even a single-celled organism on another planet (assuming there was even some way to detect such life in the first place). But that is precisely the type of narrow-minded, novelty-seeking […]

FDA allows new diagnostic technologies to test for coronavirus before receiving emergency approvals

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today that it would allow new diagnostics technologies to be used to test for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at elite academic hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country. The agency’s new initiative comes as critics have assailed various U.S. government agencies for being woefully underprepared to effectively address the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country despite being aware of the potential risks the virus posed since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in early December. As the first diagnosed cases of the new virus appeared in the country, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted only 459 tests. Meanwhile, China had five commercial tests for the coronavirus on the market one month ago and can now conduct up to 1.6 million tests per week. South Korea has tested another 65,00 people so far, according to a report in Science Magazine. Initial tests in the U.S. were hampered by the distribution of test kits which contained a faulty reagent — rendering the kits useless. The CDC isn’t the only U.S. agency criticized for its mishandling of the response to a potential outbreak. On Thursday a whistleblower complaint was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services alleging that the agency sent over a dozen employees to Wuhan to evacuate American citizens from the country without the proper training or protective gear, as first reported by The Washington Post. Now, the Food and Drug Administration is opening the doors for research centers across the country to use new technologies that have yet to be approved for emergency use in order to dramatically increase the number of tests healthcare facilities can perform. “We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, in a statement. “We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the U.S. We are not changing our standards for issuing Emergency Use Authorizations. This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation.” The new policy allows laboratories to begin to use validated COVID-19 diagnostics before the FDA has completed review of the labs’ Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests, the agency said in a statement. In cases where the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that there’s a public health emergency or a significant potential for a public health emergency, the FDA can issue these EUAs to permit the use of medical products that can diagnose, treat, or prevent a disease. The HHS secretary determined that the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus was just such an emergency on February 4. So far, the FDA has authorized one EUA for COVID-19 that’s already being used by the CDC and some public health labs, the agency said. “The global emergence of COVID-19 […]