Wells Fargo reportedly will pay $1 billion fine for loan abuses
Wells Fargo & Co is close to settling a record fine of $1 billion imposed by two U.S. regulators for its risk management business, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
Last week, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) proposed Wells Fargo to pay the penalty to resolve probes into auto insurance and mortgage lending abuses at the third-largest U.S. bank. Wells has acknowledged that it charged customers for excessive auto insurance, a burdensome expense that caused some to see their cars repossessed after defaulting on loans.
Wells Fargo declined to comment on the reported settlement.
The CFPB had been readying sanctions alongside the OCC, Wells Fargo’s day-to-day regulator.
The bank, still smarting from a prolonged scandal in which bank employees created millions of fake bank accounts in customers’ names, found inconsistencies at its auto lending and mortgage in summer 2017, leading to further probes by regulators.
To appease investors and regulators, the bank overhauled its operational structure, shook up its board and hired a new compliance officer.
Skynet is Coming: Two Robots Team Up to Build IKEA Chair [Video]
Scientists have demonstrated two robots using human-like dexterity to construct an Ikea chair. Components of the chair were randomly scattered in front of the robots, who were able to identify the correct parts and detect force to understand when, for example, pins were fully inserted into their holes, all while managing to move without obstructing one another.
From planning to execution, the robots only took 20 minutes to build the chair, with the construction itself only taking 8 minutes, 55 seconds to complete. Scary.
Doctors tried to lower $148K cancer drug cost; makers triple price of pill
A drug that treats a variety of white blood cell cancers typically costs about $148,000 a year, and doctors can customize and quickly adjust doses by adjusting how many small-dose pills of it patients should take each day—generally up to four pills. At least, that was the case until now.
Last year, doctors presented results from a small pilot trial hinting that smaller doses could work just as well as the larger dose—dropping patients down from three pills a day to just one. Taking just one pill a day could dramatically reduce costs to around $50,000 a year. And it could lessen unpleasant side-effects, such as diarrhea, muscle and bone pain, and tiredness. But just as doctors were gearing up for more trials on the lower dosages, the makers of the drug revealed plans that torpedoed the doctors’ efforts: they were tripling the price of the drug and changing pill dosages.
The drug, ibrutinib (brand name Imbruvica), typically came in 140 mg capsules, of which patients took doses from 140 mg per day to 560 mg per day depending on their cancer and individual medical situation. (There were also 70 mg capsules for patients taking certain treatment combinations or having liver complications.) The pills treat a variety of cancers involving a type of white blood cell called B cells. The cancers include mantle cell lymphoma, which was approved for treatment with four 140 mg pills per day, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, approved to be treated with three 140 mg pills per day. Each 140 mg pill costs somewhere around $133—for now.
Imbruvica’s makers, Janssen and Pharmacyclics, have now gotten approval to sell four different tablets of varying strengths: 140 mg, 280 mg, 420 mg, and 560 mg. But the new pills will all be the same price—around $400 each—even the 140 mg dose pill. The makers will stop selling the old, cheaper 140 mg pill within three months, according to a report by the Washington Post.
The plan nixes any chance to lower costs with lower dosages. Even if patients can drop down to just 140 mg a day, they’ll pay three-times what they pay now for each 140 mg pill.
“Kind of pissed off”
In a statement to the Post, Janssen and Pharmacyclics explained the move saying the new line-up is “a new innovation to provide patients with a convenient one pill, once-a-day dosing regimen and improved packaging, with the intent to improve adherence to this important therapy.” They noted that those taking 560 mg a day will save money with the new pricing.
But doctors balked at what they saw as an underhanded move. In an interview with the Post, oncologist Mark Ratain of the University of Chicago Medicine, put things bluntly: “That got us kind of pissed off.”
Ratain and colleagues wrote a commentary in the weekly newsletter Cancer Letters this month, decrying the price hike and new pill series, calling it “highly unusual.” In addition to thwarting efforts to help lower treatment costs, the doctors pointed out that the new dosage line-up will make it harder to nimbly adjust patients’ doses by simply advising them to take different numbers of pills each day. Switching a patient from a 280 mg or 420 mg per day dose down to 140 mg will require paper work, filling a new prescription, and having patients return unused pills—a process that can drag out for weeks. And upping a patient’s dose would either be just as lengthy of a process or risk multiplying their treatment costs even further by doubling or tripling the pills each day.
In their commentary, titled in part “Sales Revenues at the Potential Expense of Patient Safety,” the doctors lay out examples of when quick dosage changes would be necessary. Those include when a patient needs to drop down while they’re on a short course of antibiotics or to adjust for new combination-cancer treatments. “Any putative convenience advantage of taking one pill a day is negated by the marked inconvenience to the patient of having to return pills every time there is a need for a dosage change,” they write.
Ratain and colleagues end with a call to the Food and Drug Administration to look into the matter, “given that it creates a barrier to optimal prescribing for some patients,” they write. “We further urge the FDA to recognize that the combination of the high price per pill and the flat pricing scheme are specific impediments to safe administration, and that ignoring the marketing approach for ibrutinib is antithetical to fostering optimally safe dosing and administration.”
Fake ad blockers in the Chrome store had over 20 million installs
If you can’t find that ad blocker you recently installed from the Chrome Web Store, you might want to do some browser spring cleaning. Google has killed five top-ranking ad blockers after AdGuard published a report revealing they’re fake extensions with extra code that harvest info on the websites you visit. They apparently send the data they collect to remote servers in order to manipulate Chrome’s behavior. “Basically, this is a botnet composed of browsers infected with the fake adblock extensions,” AdGuard wrote in its report. “The browser will do whatever the command center server owner orders it to do.”
Fake ad blockers have been fooling people since at least 2017 — last year, 37,000 people installed a fake AdBlock Plus created by what SwiftOnSecurity called a “fraudulent developer who clones popular name and spams keywords.” Like that AdBlock Plus impostor, the ones AdGuard discovered also spammed keywords to get to the top of the search results. Their creators simply ripped off legit extensions and added a few lines of malicious code hidden inside benign-looking images — they didn’t even bother thinking of creative names for their fake products.
Apparently, people don’t care if an extension’s name is something lazy and generic like “AdRemover” and will download it, so long as it’s somewhere near the top. According to AdGuard, the fake ad blockers managed to trick over 20 million users into installing them. So, how can you avoid fake extensions going forward? AdGuard says the best way to protect yourself is to check an extension’s author and making sure that it’s a company you can trust.
New Alexa Blueprints let users make custom skills without knowing any code
Amazon just released a new way for Alexa users to customize their experience with the virtual assistant. New Alexa Skill Blueprints allow users to create their own personalized Alexa skills, even if they don’t know how to code. These “blueprints” act as templates for making questions, responses, trivia games, narrative stories, and other skills with customizable answers unique to each user. Amazon already has a number of resources for developers to make the new skills they want, but until now, users have had to work within the confines of pre-made Alexa skills.
Currently, more than 20 templates are available on the new Alexa Skill Blueprints website, all ready for Alexa users to personalize with their own content. Let’s say you want to make a personalized trivia game for your family and friends: choosing the Trivia blueprint brings up more information about how this particular blueprint works, including audio examples and instructions on how to fill out the template. Click “Make Your Own” to then write your own trivia questions, possible answers, and choose which answer is correct for each question. You can even add sound effects like applause to make the game feel more real. After naming your trivia game, it will be accessible within minutes on all of the Alexa devices associated with your Amazon account.
Blueprints range in complexity and usefulness—some are just for fun, like the various types of trivia games you can customize. Others, like the Houseguest and Flashcards blueprints, could end up being quite useful. Houseguest lets Alexa answer questions about your home, such as “How do you turn on the TV?” or “Where’s the extra toilet paper” and could be helpful if you rent your space on AirBnb, or simply have a friend staying over when you’re out of town. Flashcards let Alexa quiz students on any topic’s terms and definitions using review and test modes. The most ambiguous and easiest to play around with is the custom Q&A blueprint, which lets you program Alexa to provide a specific answer to a custom question.
Any blueprint-made skills you make will show up on the “Skills You’ve Made” section of the blueprints website. While these skills will exist for your Amazon account until you delete them, they aren’t posted to the general Alexa Skills score, so strangers will not have access to your couple’s trivia game that’s personalized for you, your spouse, and your best coupled friends.
While Alexa has thousands of skills available already, most cannot provide the level of personalization that blueprints now can. Variety widens Alexa’s appeal, but customization can deepen it. Most Alexa devices like the Echo live in homes and act as hands-free home helpers, so it makes sense for Amazon to allow users to customize their experience with Alexa even further. The more Alexa can be personalized for each user, the more likely those users will be to call upon the virtual assistant for help, entertainment, and everything in between.
The downside is that Alexa Skill Blueprints are only available to US customers at the moment. It’s unclear whether they will become available for non-US users, but Amazon does plan to add more blueprints to the lineup as time goes on.
Bill Gates and Masayoshi Son are backing a plan to have video cameras watch every inch of Earth from space
Bill Gates and Masayoshi Son are backing a plan to have video cameras watch every inch of Earth from space
EarthNow, a new satellite project with some high-profile benefactors, aims to cover our entire planet in detailed, real-time video surveillance.
The big names: The firm revealed Wednesday it’s backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, and Airbus, although the amount of money committed by each party was not yet clear.
The details: According to the Wall Street Journal, the company plans to launch a network of about 500 satellites weighing 500 pounds a piece. Each one will be equipped with some intense onboard computing power, that EarthNow says it will combine with planetside computers equipped with machine learning to interpret what its cameras capture in real time.
Big brother is watching: Users will be able to get a live picture of anywhere on Earth with only about one second of delay. EarthNow has yet to divulge much in terms of details, including what the resolution of their images will be (kind of important when taking pictures from space). But images will have to be detailed enough to at least be useful for some of the applications they propose, like catching illegal fishing, tracking whale migrations, and observing conflict zones.
via Technology Review Feed – Tech Review Top Stories https://ift.tt/1XdUwhl
Anyone who has spent an afternoon puzzling over an IKEA furniture kit will appreciate how tempting it would be to turn the project over to a robot. Fortunately the store’s complex self-assembly kits are something of a benchmark for roboticists who have toiled for years at building automatons smart and dexterous enough to fit screws and wooden pegs into their corresponding holes. Progress has been steady, but it will likely be awhile before robots can build a STUVA loft bed combo in your bedroom while you sip coffee in the kitchen.
A STEFAN chair kit is clearly within reach, however, according to engineers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In this week’s Science Robotics they report having assembled a STEFAN using a two-armed robot, whose sensors and programming enable it to fit most of the pieces together without human help. The machine’s arms, parallel grippers, sensors and 3-D camera completed the chair’s frame (not including the seat and stabilizing screws), covering more than 50 steps in about 20 minutes.
Just as noteworthy: each of the robot’s parts was the generic, off-the-shelf kind—a key step toward making such machines mass-producible. The components that did the assembly work “are already mass-produced, so the technology we developed here can be deployed in actual factories in [the] very near future,” says Pham Quang-Cuong, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who built the robot with fellow Nanyang researchers Francisco Suárez-Ruiz and Xian Zhou.
The engineers programmed the robot using computer code, rather than training the device to assemble parts via machine-learning and other artificial intelligence techniques crucial to the future of robotics. “In this work we were interested in achieving the low-level capabilities such as perception, planning and control, rather than in the high-level reasoning,” Quang-Cuong says. “Those low-level capabilities are crucial for, and can be adapted to, the assembly of other objects or to other industrial tasks such as handling, drilling, glue dispensing, assembly and inspection. We are also planning to integrate AI methods in our future work to automate [more abstract] high-level reasoning.”
The Nanyang robot arms’ movements may look slow and tedious but their ability to fit pegs into holes tackles “a superhard problem in robotics,” says Ross Knepper, an assistant computer science professor at Cornell University who was not involved in the Nanyang research. Knepper would know—he was part of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team that in 2013 built the “IKEABot” system of autonomous robots capable of assembling LACK side tables. The MIT project debuted the same year as another LACK-building bot developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Willow Garage robotics research lab and elsewhere (pdf).
The MIT IKEABot was an automated system that coordinated two robots with specialized tools to perform the assembly. This system applied reasoning about the geometry of individual parts in order to figure out how they fit together. “Whereas my work used a visual perception modality—using vision to solve the peg-in-a-hole problem—the Nanyang researchers are doing it through tactile feedback, feeling whether or not the peg went into the hole,” Knepper says. “The applications are both for IKEA furniture, but the contributions to robotics are very different.”
The Singapore-based researchers’ technology promises to be versatile, able to be reprogrammed for different tasks—maybe even assembling other kinds of furniture. “Many people, especially many Americans, have this intimate experience with struggling and maybe failing to build IKEA furniture,” Knepper says. “The dream is still to have one robot system that can assemble IKEA’s entire catalogue—but we’re not there yet.”