How technology is changing the auto insurance landscape

AI, blockchain, and just an overall rise in technologies across the planet are changing the way traditional industries are doing business. The wide world of auto insurance is no exception, with disruptive technology from insurtech propelling the industry forward. From apps that allow agents to quickly process applications on the go, to AI being used to navigate the vast amount data involved in insurance forms, budding technologies are at the forefront of changing how consumers interact with the services that protect them against disasters and other life-changing events. The AI revolution In an industry that is built on data, it…

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Review: Witti Design’s Notti and Dotti are a couple of fun little lights

Witti Design’s line of smart home accessories contains several products which can only be described as delightfully odd. As a big fan of interesting design decisions in technology products, I simply had to review a couple of the company’s strangest offerings: the Notti and Dotti. First, the Notti Pictured in the above image is the Notti, a smart light with a unique aesthetic that you can take from me when you pry it from my cold dead hands. Despite the fact that it doesn’t connect to Alexa or Google Assistant, can’t be voice-controlled, and still manages to have the audacity…

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Facebook made an AI that convincingly turns one style of music into another

Facebook AI Research (FAIR) scientists yesterday unveiled a neural network capable of translating music from one style, genre, and set of instruments to another. Soon, you won’t have to blow your own horn; you can just whistle to an AI and it’ll turn your song into the symphony or dance hit of your dreams. The AI takes one input, such as a symphony orchestra playing Bach, and translates it into something else, like the same song played on a piano in the style of Beethoven, for example. FAIR becomes the first AI research team to create an unsupervised learning method…

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California Congressional candidate goes after fellow Democrat with anti-Bitcoin attack ad

A political hopeful recently aired an anti-Bitcoin attack ad against a rival competing for the Democratic nomination in the upcoming Congressional race for California’s 45th district. The ad, ran by Dave Min, targets Brian Forde’s donors, calling them “Bitcoin speculators that oppose cracking down on drug deals and human trafficking.” File this under: Entertainment for people who hate Democrats. Min, A former SEC attorney, who was also an aide for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, ran the ad which – among others – targeted Forde, an Obama-era White House cryptocurrency guru and former head of MIT’s cryptocurrency initiative. Forde may…

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Google rolls out early access to new YouTube Music subscription service

YouTube today began early access to its rebranded YouTube Music subscription service. What it means: YouTube Music comes with an all-new app, Google’s AI-powered search and insights, and a focus on finding new tunes. If you’ve signed up for early access — and you live in one of the supported countries — you’ll be able to get your groove on as early as today. The details: Google recently announced it was rebranding its YouTube Red service into a few separate entities. Today it’s rolling out YouTube Music in both ad-supported (free) and ad-free ($9.99 monthly). Later, it’ll launch the full…

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Grail raises $300M for cancer detection tools, boosting total investment to $1.5B

News Brief: Grail, a biotech company with early backing from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, says it’s raised $300 million in an oversubscribed Series C financing round. Gates and Bezos got in on a $100 million Series A round in 2016, and since then, total investment has risen to $1.5 billion. Headquartered in Silicon Valley and Hong Kong, Grail aims to develop diagnostic tools for early detection of cancer. The Series C round was led by Ally Bridge Group, co-led by  Hillhouse Capital Group and 6 Dimensions Capital, and includes Blue Pool Capital, China Merchant Securities International, CRF Investment, HuangPu River Capital, ICBC International, Sequoia Capital China and WuXi NextCODE.

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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell sees satellites as bigger market than rockets

Gwynne Shotwell
SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, talks about the company’s future financial frontier. (CNBC via YouTube)

SpaceX is taking a commanding role in the rocket business — but Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and chief operating officer, expects the satellite business to be more lucrative.

Shotwell sized up SpaceX’s road ahead in a CNBC interview that aired today in connection with the cable network’s latest Disruptor 50 list. For the second year in a row, the space venture founded by billionaire Elon Musk leads the list.

The 18 launches by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets accounted for 20 percent of the world’s orbital liftoffs last year, and Shotwell said she expects the launch tally to rise to between 24 and 28 for this year.

Next year, however, could bring a “slight slowdown” to a level that’s more in line with 2017’s pace, Shotwell said. That’s due to a projected decline in demand for satellite launches.

The satellite launch service market has grown to an estimated $5.5 billion in 2016, according to the latest State of the Satellite Industry Report. But that pales in comparison with the $127.7 billion market for satellite services and the $113.4 billion market for satellite ground services.

That’s why SpaceX is putting its chips down on a plan to provide global broadband access through its own satellite constellation, known as Starlink.

“The market size for launches is dramatically less than telecommunications, so that’s a nice way to go and make additional revenue,” Shotwell said.

SpaceX Redmond office
SpaceX’s Redmond office is the center for its satellite operations. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

Internal financial documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal last year suggest that SpaceX expects its satellite data service to bring in more than $30 billion in annual revenue by 2025.

SpaceX’s facilities in Redmond, Wash., have been given leading roles in the Starlink development effort. Shotwell and other have been reluctant to say much about the operation for proprietary reasons, but back in 2015, Musk said the Seattle-area operation could eventually employ “maybe a thousand people.”

The company’s website currently lists more 100 open positions in Redmond.

In February, SpaceX launched the first two prototype satellites for the Starlink constellation, and in March, the Federal Communications Commission gave its thumbs-up to SpaceX’s plans. Musk has said Starlink’s Version 1 level of service could be available by 2020, but today Shotwell suggested that the technical and financial details have yet to be fully worked out.

She said SpaceX’s experience with the Dragon cargo capsule, and the crew-capable version of the Dragon that’s currently being tested, will come in handy.

“It’s very complementary to the work that we’re doing right now,” Shotwell said. “Dragon is a very sophisticated ‘satellite,’ and we have our own launch capability, so … assuming we get the physics right, as well as the business right, I think we’ll be able to emplace a constellation that could be quite successful.”

Musk’s other ventures are complementary as well. In response to a question, Shotwell acknowledged that Starlink could connect with Tesla’s electric cars, presumably for over-the-air software updates as well as for in-car entertainment.

“We’re not joined, but we do share technologies and capabilities wherever we can,” she said. “In fact, I think the Boring Company could be the way we house people on Mars. We’ll have to dig tunnels for folks.”

Sending settlers to Mars is the long-term goal for SpaceX, for Musk and for Shotwell as well. Toward that end, the company’s development efforts are increasingly shifting toward the super-sized BFR spacecraft, which Shotwell has euphemistically called the “Big Falcon Rocket.”

SpaceX’s aspirational goal is to start flight-testing components of the BFR next year, and start flying people to Mars in 2024.

The company is in the midst of a $500 million Series I investment offering, in part to fund BFR development. Shotwell estimated SpaceX’s current valuation at nearly $28 billion. That makes SpaceX one of the world’s most valuable privately held companies, but Shotwell said it won’t be going public anytime soon.

“We can’t go public until we’re flying regularly to Mars,” she said.

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TLDR: ACLU asks Amazon to stop selling facial recognition tech to police, Paul Allen’s $1M donation to gun safety initiative, GlimpseCam

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From $1 to $2.25 — state seeks public input on proposed toll rates inside Seattle’s new tunnel

SR 99 Tunnel
A view in early May of the southbound deck of the SR 99 tunnel. (Flickr Photo / WSDOT)

Traffic isn’t flowing through the new SR 99 tunnel beneath Seattle yet, but options for how much money flows out of it via tolls are already being considered in Washington state’s capital.

The Washington State Transportation Commission announced Tuesday that it is implementing the public input and review process on three toll-rate options that are under consideration. According to a post on the WSTC website, the commission has spent more than a year studying and assessing all aspects of tolling on the new roadway, which is still being worked on between the Seattle Center and the sports stadiums.

RELATED: ‘One of the smartest tunnels ever built’: New video explains how tech will help keep Seattle drivers safe

The tunnel is slated to open to traffic as early as this fall. The state Legislature determined in 2012 that tolling would be needed to raise $200 million of the $3.3 billion it cost for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program and cover ongoing operation and maintenance costs.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said in an email to Good to Go customers that the 2-mile tunnel, which will carry two lanes of traffic north and south, will initially be free when it opens and that it has not been determined when tolling will start.

A WSDOT website has more information on the tunnel and tolling. In the same manner as the new SR 520 bridge and all other toll roads in Washington, tolls will be collected electronically. Drivers traveling in either direction will be charged as they exit the tunnel and will not need to slow down or stop at a toll booth. Overhead signs on SR 99 will alert drivers that they are approaching a tolled tunnel, the website says.

As for how much it’s all going to cost drivers — after decades of driving above ground on the Alaskan Way Viaduct for free — that’s what the three options will determine. Here are the details on those:

Option A:

  • Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times, $1.25 midday and $1 overnight.
  • There are four different toll rates over six time periods on weekdays.
  • Beginning in July 2022, toll rates increase 3 percent, every three years for all days of the week.

Option B:

  • Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times, $1 midday and $1 overnight.
  • There are four different toll rates over eight time periods on weekdays.
  • Beginning in July 2020, there will be annual toll rate increases of 3.5 percent for five years that will apply to the weekday rates only.

Option C:

  • Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times, $1.25 midday and $1 overnight.
  • There are five different toll rates over seven time periods on weekdays.
  • There are no toll rate increases during first five years of tolling. Then there are three toll rate increases of 5 percent each, taking place in July of 2024, 2029, and 2034, for all days of the week.

The Transportation Commission is taking public comment on these tolling options until July 17. An official proposal will be announced in mid-July 2018, followed by an additional public comment period before toll rates are finalized in fall 2018.

Check this website for dates of public input meetings in Seattle in early June. Or, to comment via email, use, or use an online form found here.

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Seattle biotech journalist reaches summit of Mount Everest in bid to raise money for cancer research

Luke Timmerman
Luke Timmerman, in yellow jacket, on the summit of Mount Everest. (Alpine Ascents Photo / Ben Jones)

Seattle biotech journalist Luke Timmerman reached new heights Tuesday in his efforts to raise awareness for cancer research by successfully summiting Mount Everest.

A series of tweets and photographs showed a spectacular blue-sky day on the world’s highest peak as Timmerman and his group, led by Seattle-based Alpine Ascents, reached the top at 29,029 feet. Guide Ben Jones’s images and reports were shared by the company on social media.

Huge congrats to our entire #Everest summit team! 📸: @benmjones ・・・ Our entire team made it to the top of the World today in the best weather, conditions, and least amount of people I’ve seen in my short 8 years here. No wind on the summit, it was clear, and there was only one other team climbing today and they left ahead of us so we never crossed paths until they were on there way down. We had the entire summit to just our group! Incredible day, and we are now all resting safely back in the South Col. This was my 5th summit to the top of Everest and grateful for a successful and safe day for our team! @alpineascents @sjangbu @mountainbull1 @lrsherpa @jibanghimire #everest2018 #everest #jacksonhole #nepal #lhotse

A post shared by Alpine Ascents International (@alpineascents) on

The team included eight climbers, three guides and 10 Sherpa, according to Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Timmerman, sponsored in part by donations from Sanofi and 10X Genomics, spent eight weeks on Everest acclimating to the high altitude in addition to months of training at home in the Seattle area.

Timmerman, 42, has been climbing mountains for years, and has summited Mount Rainier in Washington state (14,400 feet), Alaska’s Denali (20,000 feet) and even Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia at 22,800 feet.

He believes cancer treatment is at a tipping point, and the Everest climb was his way of giving science yet another nudge toward a potential breakthrough. He set a goal of raising $375,000 to help Fred Hutch, and as of Tuesday he had raised $337,810.

Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch, said in a news release that private donations are vital to helping his team perform at its own high level and cure most, if not all, cancers by 2025.

“Climbing Everest is a colossal goal and I am in awe of Luke’s accomplishment,” Gilliland said. “We are honored that he dedicated his expedition to inspire others to support our work. We must aim high and reach new peaks to achieve extraordinary breakthroughs. Private funding we receive from individuals like Luke and his donors, is vital to helping us find cures and save lives.”

Timmerman joined GeekWire in March for a podcast episode to discuss the climb and his hopes for cancer research.

More images and congratulations showed up on Twitter and Instagram:

Timmerman is seen in the center of this photograph, standing with the blue jacket and glasses:

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