Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Macron’s State Reform Tsar Looks to Technology to Cut Red-Tape

France is ready to invest in artificial intelligence, blockchain and data mining to “transform” its sprawling bureaucracy instead of simply trimming budgets and jobs, its administration reform tsar said.

The 39-year old former telecoms executive whom President Emmanuel Macron has charged with reforming the public sector said he believed technology would win support from government employees and in the end produce less costly public services.

Macron himself is coming under pressure from budget watchdogs and Brussels to spell out how he plans to cut 60 billion euros ($74 billion) in public spending and 120,000 public sector jobs to fulfill pledges made in his election campaign.

Chatbots – software that can answer users’ questions with a conversational approach – or algorithms helping the taxman to target potential tax evaders, were some of the possibilities offered by technology, Thomas Cazenave told Reuters in an interview.

“The state … must not fall behind, get ‘uberized’ and shrivel up,” Cazenave said.

“The potential created by digitalization, data and artificial intelligence will help put fewer employees on some tasks, while reinvesting in others,” he added.

A 700-million-euro ($864-million) fund will help invest in IT projects over the next five years to help modernize administration in the highly centralized country and automate some activities.

‘Macron boy’

Cazenave is one of the ‘Macron boys’ whose mix of top civil service pedigree and private sector experience is being used to shake up France’s 5.5 million-strong army of government employees and cut one of the highest public spending ratios in the world.

Only two months younger than Macron, the two met over 10 years ago when they joined the highly selective corps of finance civil servants after graduating from ENA, a graduate school of public administration for the French elite.

Cazenave then became the number 2 human resources executive at telecoms firm Orange, a company which transitioned from government monopoly to globalized private champion. In 2016, Macron prefaced Cazenave’s book, “The State in Start-Up Mode.”

“Like me, the president feels very deeply that these are no longer times where public services can be reformed with small tweaks. Major transformations are needed,” Cazenave said.

Sensitive subject

However, despite frequently referring to transformation and revolution, Macron has taken a cautious approach on belt-tightening measures, with very few details given so far on where the ax will fall.

His budget minister said this month a voluntary redundancy plan could be on the cards, but did not elaborate. More details are expected to be announced in March/April but legislation is not expected before early 2019.

Cazenave said taking time to consult employees was necessary to get government employees on board and to review which public services still need to be ran by government, and which can be outsourced or even abandoned.

He also said previous spending cut plans, such as former conservative leader Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision not to fill one in two vacancies left by retiring baby-boomers had failed to curb spending because the state’s remit had not been changed.

Outsourcing some public services is currently being considered, he said, but the example of British outsourcing firm Carillion’s collapse showed it could not be replicated everywhere.

“There is no place for ideology on the outsourcing debate, in one way or another. The private sector doesn’t have a definitive superiority to the public sector,” he said.

 

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Officials: Aid Sector Must Innovate to Deliver Value for Money

The humanitarian sector lacks creativity and must innovate to deliver more value for the money, officials said Monday, amid fears of a funding shortfall following the Oxfam sex scandal.

Aid groups must make better use of technology — from cash transfer programs to drones — to improve the delivery of services, said a panel of government officials in London.

“For far too long, when faced with a challenge, we’ve looked inward and crafted a solution that doesn’t work for the communities we’re meant to serve,” said Mark Green, head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Be it in London or [Washington] D.C., we humanitarians are way behind in terms of creativity,” he added.

Green was speaking at an event hosted by the Overseas Development Institute, a think-tank, to launch the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, an initiative by the U.S., British and Canadian governments to promote innovation across the aid sector.

Britain’s aid minister Penny Mordaunt said aid groups must learn from communities’ and the private sector’s creativity in addressing challenges including climate shocks and malnutrition.

Mordaunt cited innovations such as cash transfer programs — whereby recipients receive cash electronically rather than aid provisions — as one way to deliver humanitarian aid better, faster and cheaper, while also giving communities autonomy.

Other promising technologies include gathering data on mobile phones and the use of drones to determine where the most urgent needs are in humanitarian crises, according to Mordaunt.

Green said the United States had spent $8 billion on aid in 2017, of which 80 percent went to services in conflict zones.

“Less than 1 percent of that money, however, went into innovations and ways to improve the delivery of aid services.”

British charity Oxfam has come under fire this month over sexual misconduct accusations against its staff in Haiti and Chad which have threatened its U.K. government and EU funding.

Several industry experts have warned that the backlash against Oxfam could drive charities to cover up cases of sex abuse for fear of losing support and funding from the public, donors and governments.

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Tiny Pacemakers Could Be Game Changers for Heart Patients

Tiny, new pacemakers are making headway around the world. One type, the Micra, is keeping 15,000 people’s hearts beating in 40 countries, according to manufacturer Medtronic. One of those people is Mary Lou Trejo, a senior citizen who lives in Ohio. 

A healthy heart has its own pacemaker that establishes its rhythm, but people like Trejo need the help of an artificial device.

Trejo comes from a family with a history of heart disease. Her heart skipped beats, and she could feel it going out of rhythm. Trejo wanted to do something to advance heart health, so in 2014, she volunteered to participate in a clinical trial for the Micra pacemaker. The device is 24 millimeters long implanted, one-tenth the size of traditional pacemakers.

Traditional pacemakers

Most pacemakers rely on batteries placed under the skin, usually just below the collarbone. Sometimes patients get infections after the surgery or have difficulty healing from the incision.

Traditional pacemakers use leads with electrodes on one end that are threaded through blood vessels to connect to the heart. There can be problems with the leads as well.

Dr. Ralph Augostini at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center says a tiny pacemaker like the Micra avoids all of these problems. 

“The electrodes are part of the can, and therefore it eliminates the lead,” he said. There’s no incision in the chest to become infected and no chance of complications with the leads.

Small and self-contained

Augostini implanted Trejo’s pacemaker in 2014. He threaded the entire device thorough an artery in her leg up to her heart. The pacemaker has small, flexible tines that anchor it into the folds of the heart muscle. Once it’s in place, the doctor gives it a tug to make sure the pacemaker is stable before removing the catheter used to place it in the heart.

The Wexner Medical Center was one of the sites that participated in the Micra clinical trial. Since the Micra received FDA approval in 2016, Medtronic has been training more physicians on the procedure. A company spokesman told VOA that this device is becoming available at other centers across the U.S. and countries throughout the world.

Dr. John Hummell, a cardiologist at the Wexner Medical Center, has studied the effectiveness of this new generation of pacemakers. 

“We don’t leave any wires behind and the pacemaker, the battery, the wire is all just a tiny little piece of metal sitting down in the heart,” he said. Medtronic said the results of the clinical trial showed a success rate of 99.6 percent.

Dr. Richard Weachter, with the University of Missouri Health Care, says the leadless pacemakers’ complication rates are about half the rate of traditional pacemakers.

The battery lasts for 14 years and after that, Weachter said, doctors can implant another one in the same chamber of the heart. They can repeat the procedure a third time if needed.

The pacemaker activates only when necessary to keep the heart beating normally. Studies show that the Micra and other leadless pacemakers are safe and effective.

These tiny pacemakers are not right for all patients, but as the technology develops, more people will be able to benefit from the procedure. Four years after her implant, Trejo’s doctors say she is doing fine.

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Tiny Pacemakers Could Be Game Changers for Heart Patients

Tiny, new pacemakers are making headway around the world. One type, the Micra, is keeping 15,000 people’s hearts beating in 40 countries, according to manufacturer Medtronic. One of those people is Mary Lou Trejo, a senior citizen who lives in Ohio. 

A healthy heart has its own pacemaker that establishes its rhythm, but people like Trejo need the help of an artificial device.

Trejo comes from a family with a history of heart disease. Her heart skipped beats, and she could feel it going out of rhythm. Trejo wanted to do something to advance heart health, so in 2014, she volunteered to participate in a clinical trial for the Micra pacemaker. The device is 24 millimeters long implanted, one-tenth the size of traditional pacemakers.

Traditional pacemakers

Most pacemakers rely on batteries placed under the skin, usually just below the collarbone. Sometimes patients get infections after the surgery or have difficulty healing from the incision.

Traditional pacemakers use leads with electrodes on one end that are threaded through blood vessels to connect to the heart. There can be problems with the leads as well.

Dr. Ralph Augostini at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center says a tiny pacemaker like the Micra avoids all of these problems. 

“The electrodes are part of the can, and therefore it eliminates the lead,” he said. There’s no incision in the chest to become infected and no chance of complications with the leads.

Small and self-contained

Augostini implanted Trejo’s pacemaker in 2014. He threaded the entire device thorough an artery in her leg up to her heart. The pacemaker has small, flexible tines that anchor it into the folds of the heart muscle. Once it’s in place, the doctor gives it a tug to make sure the pacemaker is stable before removing the catheter used to place it in the heart.

The Wexner Medical Center was one of the sites that participated in the Micra clinical trial. Since the Micra received FDA approval in 2016, Medtronic has been training more physicians on the procedure. A company spokesman told VOA that this device is becoming available at other centers across the U.S. and countries throughout the world.

Dr. John Hummell, a cardiologist at the Wexner Medical Center, has studied the effectiveness of this new generation of pacemakers. 

“We don’t leave any wires behind and the pacemaker, the battery, the wire is all just a tiny little piece of metal sitting down in the heart,” he said. Medtronic said the results of the clinical trial showed a success rate of 99.6 percent.

Dr. Richard Weachter, with the University of Missouri Health Care, says the leadless pacemakers’ complication rates are about half the rate of traditional pacemakers.

The battery lasts for 14 years and after that, Weachter said, doctors can implant another one in the same chamber of the heart. They can repeat the procedure a third time if needed.

The pacemaker activates only when necessary to keep the heart beating normally. Studies show that the Micra and other leadless pacemakers are safe and effective.

These tiny pacemakers are not right for all patients, but as the technology develops, more people will be able to benefit from the procedure. Four years after her implant, Trejo’s doctors say she is doing fine.

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