Watson was originally developed to prove that cognitive computing could rival human experts by winning at the TV game show Jeopardy. Since then Watson's technology has been applied to medical diagnoses and financial services delivery. The new IBM Watson Group, housed in New York City's “Silicon Alley” district, will direct the efforts of about 2,000 professionals toward expanding Watson's applications into new markets in retail, travel, telecommunications, and beyond.
Klaus-Peter Adlassnig is a computer scientist at the Medical University of Vienna and the editor-in-chief of the journal Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. The problem with Watson, as he sees it, is that it’s essentially a really good search engine that can answer questions posed in natural language. Over time, Watson does learn from its mistakes, but Adlassnig suspects that the sort of knowledge Watson acquires from medical texts and case studies is “very flat and very broad.” In a clinical setting, the computer would make for a very thorough but cripplingly literal-minded doctor—not necessarily the most valuable addition to a medical staff. There may well come a day when computers can spit out diagnoses and treatment regimens, leaving doctors little to do but enter data and hone their bedside manner, but that day has not yet come.
The system's decision engine and advanced natural-language processing technology was launched as a new moneymaking machine at a glossy event in New York on Thursday. So far, it seems, the clever mainframe has proved less a panacea and more a pain in the neck for IBM. ...
One thing is for sure – in its current state, Watson-powered projects require heavy development by both IBM and the prospective customer, and though IBM is forming a lab to help work with Silicon Valley firms to create Watson apps, it looks to be a hard road.
A selected reader comments follow:
I believe IBM will be in the future a case study on how short term profit goals can destroy an unprecedented amount of brand image and trust in a short record time.
Over the past year, IBM's shares have lagged behind the S&P 500, and the technology sector, as investors have become increasingly concerned with the company's failure to reduce its reliance from its legacy systems and services business, and its slow shift to cloud computing. Currently, IBM is trading at just 11.0 times expected 2013 earnings, despite the company returning most of its free cash flow to shareholders through dividends and huge stock buybacks. However, there are growing concerns that the company's EPS growth is increasingly dependent on buyback, whilst the underlying businesses are seeing revenues decline, and margin expansion cannot keep profitability growing forever.
The US technology group said late on Thursday that it would spend $1.2bn in 2014 to add 13 new data centres, taking the total to 40. The move follows its $2bn purchase last year of SoftLayer, whose software is a building block for running cloud services, and signals the latest step in Big Blue’s rethink of its position in cloud computing. ...
The change of heart in cloud computing comes as IBM’s flagging growth has led Ginni Rometty, chief executive, to step up spending on new markets with the most promise. This month she announced a big push to turn Watson, the company’s most advanced computing project, into a significant business by helping companies make better use of vast bodies of data.
Since 2007, IBM has invested more than $7.5 billion in 15 cloud-related acquisitions, including SoftLayer, a Dallas-based cloud computing infrastructure company IBM acquired for $2 billion in July. The newest commitment is designed to help the company reach its goal of $7 billion in annual cloud revenue by 2015.
In addition to North America, Europe, and Asia, the datacenters will be located in South America and Australia. Some of the newly launched datacenters are in the US (Dallas and Washington, D.C.), Hong Kong, England, Canada, Japan, India, China, and Mexico. IBM has set a goal to have four or more datacenters in each major geographic area around the world. It will reserve expansion into the Middle East and Africa until 2015. ...
About 100 countries now have laws that set regulations on how businesses must handle citizens' personal data, noted Erich Clementi, senior VP of IBM Global Technology Services, in the announcement. In a thinly veiled swipe at Amazon Web Services, he said: "IBM recognizes the universal need to deliver mission-critical workloads in a cloud environment that are secure, reliable, and built on open standards, as contrasted with the commoditized cloud model that emphasizes low costs, instead of business growth and innovation."
Advice to Senior Management: Cut layers of management by half and invest more in employee satisfaction There's no reason we need 15 levels of management. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
Advice to Senior Management: Chairman is on the right track but hindered by declining revenues and relentless focus on cutting costs. We need to reinvest in the IBMer and make us feel reengaged in the company's vision. Empower us to make sound decisions close to the ground. Remove useless layers of managers and approvals (and in doing so, save even more money and time). If you do those things, we will more than give the company and shareholders "ROI" -- we also will create a climate where people feel good about working here again and can truly do their best work, and that will feed into other great outcomes.
Pros: People were always great and some truly creative and wonderful intellects work there. We were able to work at home when necessary with no trouble. Good contribution to 401K (but that has since been modified—it's no longer by pay period but once per year, and only if one is working on Dec 15—hence layoffs prior to Dec 15.)
Cons: Too big, which clogs productivity even when intentions are good. Obsession with stock returns instead of doing things well. Speaking from experience as an acquisition (i.e. member of acquired company), their aim is to squeeze out whatever they can with minimal investment—worked people to death, laid off good people, neglected basic maintenance of software in favor of flashy non-enhancements. Within our acquisition, approach was to pile on more and more work while laying people off—in the process the application was run into the ground.
The system of performance reviews based on "stack ranking" (that is, a quota of bad ratings—someone must get a bad rating, regardless of actual performance) is horrendously toxic. Everyone hated working there, whether they were being laid off or not, even people in Watson, supposedly the hottest area.
Advice to Senior Management: Lose the obsession with stock return and the self-destructive "roadmap" (which is their plan to increase the return per share to an arbitrary target to the exclusion of all else, resulting in massive layoffs and buybacks). Get the executive level back in touch with the field. Go back to creating actual things (in which I include software) that work; go back to servicing them well.
[But everyone should note that the current situation is certainly *not* Ginny Romety's fault—she inherited it. She may or may not have a plan to fix things, but she didn't cause them. Their business model is to offset declining sales by cutting costs (layoffs and benefit reductions), buybacks, and accounting tricks, to which Wall St is now catching on. It may have made sense when it was started, but not for a long time. They're in a suicidal death spiral, the main problem being that the existence of Cloud negates the need for their core business. No doubt they will succeed in re-inventing themselves yet again, but it hasn't started yet, and will be very painful and messy.]
No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
Pros: You get to work with some truly gifted people on projects that will see market release. It's multidisciplinary and, no matter your position, you will interact with people from departments outside your own and you'll learn a lot about the product and the development process. It's very rewarding to work with your team to complete a project. In some cases you will own a particular aspect of it and that success will always stay with you as a valued memory. There are teams and offices all over the world, so there is ample opportunity for travel and relocation.
Cons: There is no such thing as work-life balance. The culture is to live for the work. I worked long hours daily and brought work home for the weekends each and every one. There was no way to avoid it—the pressure and schedule required it. It was even worse if quality work was important to you. The benefits and pay, while good, in no way matched the hours. There was a lot of pressure to meet quarterly sales for stock reports. Project quality and release schedules were reflective of this. There was absolutely no room to miss a deadline or suggest any improvements to a product that would risk a delay. There was a lot of politics. Let's just say the environment was development driven. If your role was not in development, you had to fight every day against the will of developers just to do your job. It was very difficult sometimes to get the information you needed to do your job if the answers were outside of your team.
Advice to Senior Management: I understand the need for deadline-driven project scheduling and the meeting of quarterly sales goals, but the quality of work and the general well-being of employees suffer at some point. There's a need for more realistic scheduling and better project planning, involving more teams than just the developers right at the start of the project so as to help get everyone on the same page early. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
Cons: - very low salary compared to market; - only few decent first line managers, rest is either using the employees for their own benefits or just lying to them; - most of the projects should really be even called "projects" - not feeling that "we all work in the same team".
Advice to Senior Management: Go for real innovation; Watson must be turning over in his grave when he looks at IBM today. First-line managers must be working with people, not following Excel spreadsheets. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
Chapin Davis Investments, for instance, is adding new disclosures requirements for its rollover clients. "Our guys are going to have to do a financial analysis to prove to me that it is the best interest of the client to actually make this move," said Stephanie Elliott, the Baltimore wealth-management firm's chief compliance officer.
"I want to see that [the clients] sign off on it" with the full understanding that the IRA might cost more in fees, she said. ...
Advisers and their firms benefit from rolling funds over into IRAs because they get access to managing those investments, which generates fees for holding the account and commissions for trading securities and funds. Some firms charge a fee for the rollover itself. ...
Still, many advisers believe keeping funds in an existing 401(k) should be the default option, though that is the less favorable option for the advisory firm because it doesn't add revenue. Investors have to weigh the fees they pay for their 401(k)s, particularly if employers pass them on to the plan participants, but generally brokerage fees are higher, advisers say. ...
"I would imagine, the vast majority of times, if not all the time, it's going to be less expensive in a 401(k) than an IRA," Mr. Hanson of Hanson McClain says. Advisers recommending rollovers have to make sure the fees "are justifiable," either by lowering risk or increasing returns, he said.
For years, many pensions were of the “defined-benefit” variety, where employers set aside funds that were to be paid out to workers upon retirement. Workers put their faith and futures into these pensions, which were seen as an unbreakable promise that a lifetime’s work in even the dirtiest job would guarantee them senior years in comfort.
That began to change in the 1980s, as the collapse of unions, financial crises, business failures and new accounting rules slashed away at these pensions. “Defined-contribution” pensions like 401(k)s were introduced, which shifted the financial burden and investment decisions to workers. They also lost the certainty that once came with traditional pensions. The transition has not gone well for some workers financially and emotionally.
By 2011, 31 percent of private-sector workers at in the U.S. had this new type of pension, while only 3 percent of workers were covered by defined-benefit plans, down from 28 percent in 1979, according to the most recent figures collected by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group.
The first is with “the number.” The thought of saving $1 million or more for retirement is overwhelming. For those just trying to make ends meet, amassing more money than they can imagine seems as likely as the Washington Redskins winning the Super Bowl. As a result, many people don’t even try.
The second image problem is much smaller, but equally paralyzing. The thought of saving $100 a month in a retirement account seems pointless. How can such meager savings turn into an amount that would allow a typical family to retire?
Add to these two image problems the fact that retirement is decades away for many people, and the result is a retirement readiness epidemic. These problems hit home to me when, as part of a 31-day money challenge, an executive in the pension industry commented that just the cost of cable TV and cell phones could fund a retirement.
I decided to test his idea.
Cable TV or retirement – you decide. How much does a lifetime of cable cost? While the cost of monthly cable packages varies significantly, the average is about $80 a month. Multiply that cost by 50 years and it totals a whopping $48,000. If you think that number is alarming, wait until you see the next one.
Alliance Reply: IBM is not "breaking" any laws. It's business as usual for IBM. Escalate all you want. It won't help. More than likely, upper management are the ones that gave your manager the direction to make you a "3", in the first place. This is why we have been telling IBMers since 1999, that IBM sees you as an "At Will Employee". You have no protection from any union contract and very little from the Labor board of your State. Want some advice? Start looking for a new job now. IBM has made it clear that your days are numbered at IBM. Sorry for your situation and your impending job loss. Better luck to you in the future.
It is not just the Alliance saying this, it is said throughout the company by workers who feel they will be discarded to reach that goal.
The goal of $20 EPS has been meeting resistance in the marketplace already. Missed targets and a series of poor quarters do not bode well for meeting the goal.
So what does the IBM executive team do? Keep the pressure on by more cost cutting and more firings? Or come to their senses and realize they are pushing a bad business model.
Unfortunately it will probably be business as usual and the employees will pay the price. PBC evaluations are taking place and reports once again show that large amounts of workers are unfairly seeing their number drop. That puts you at risk for being targeted for a "resource action".
But the company is also paying a price. Not only are good and talented employees being "RA'd", many are leaving the company because the workplace has become toxic. Those that remain report long and abusive hours, units cut of staff so deeply that the customer suffers, and work piles up on those left to take up the slack.
It really is time to put the IBM house back in order but it won't be the executives that do it. We all must do it.
First of all we must organize, build the Alliance everywhere, and bring IBM executives to the negotiating table. They can not be in charge of our future because frankly they consider employees liabilities to the goal of $20 EPS
We must say NO to the executives blind, greed driven goal of $20 EPS. It is time to rebuild and save the business, utilizing the talents of IBM workers, not the bean-counters.
We are at a critical point. Do we continue to allow corporate management to push a path that does not reward employees but does reward large investors and executives?
Or do we push for a better future for employees, the business and our customers?
Let's organize, speak up and rebuild. Lets bring back respect and dignity to the IBM workforce.
Start today by joining the Alliance, the only advocate for workers. afl.salsalabs.com/o/4004/donate_page/alliance-join
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) won election in November on a promise to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend coverage to as many as 400,000 uninsured Virginians. The state’s Chamber of Commerce supports the expansion, which it sees as providing a major economic lift; hospitals, hurting from the loss of federal funds for treating the uninsured, are desperate for it. Elsewhere around the country, about half the states, including eight with Republican governors, have opted to accept Medicaid expansion, whose cost would be borne entirely by the federal government for the first three years. States then would assume a small share of the cost, gradually rising to a maximum of 10 percent in 2021.
Republicans who control the House of Delegates in Richmond are opposed, but they are not offering a viable alternative. ...
In addition to better health care for the uninsured, those benefits include $14.6 billion in federal Medicaid funds between now and 2022. That money would go to hospitals and others in the health-care industry, an infusion of cash that could generate an estimated 30,000 jobs. Since Virginians will be paying into the system that supports Medicaid expansion, they should reap the benefits. By blocking the expansion, Republicans would be shortchanging their constituents.
That was the prelude to a day-long medical odyssey several weeks later, through different private offices on the manicured campus at the Baptist Health Medical Center that involved a dermatologist, an anesthesiologist and an ophthalmologist who practices plastic surgery. It generated bills of more than $25,000.
“I felt like I was a hostage,” said Ms. Little, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, who had been told beforehand that she would need just a couple of stitches. “I didn’t have any clue how much they were going to bill. I had no idea it would be so much.”
Ms. Little’s seemingly minor medical problem — she had the least dangerous form of skin cancer — racked up big bills because it involved three doctors from specialties that are among the highest compensated in medicine, and it was done on the grounds of a hospital. Many specialists have become particularly adept at the business of medicine by becoming more entrepreneurial, protecting their turf through aggressive lobbying by their medical societies, and most of all, increasing revenues by offering new procedures — or doing more of lucrative ones. ,,,
That math explains why the incomes of dermatologists, gastroenterologists and oncologists rose 50 percent or more between 1995 and 2012, even when adjusted for inflation, while those for primary care physicians rose only 10 percent and lag far behind, since insurers pay far less for traditional doctoring tasks like listening for a heart murmur or prescribing the right antibiotic....
By 2012, dermatologists — whose incomes were more or less on par with internists in 1985 — had become the fourth-highest earners in American medicine in some surveys, bringing in an average of $471,555, according to the Medical Group Management Association, which tracks doctors’ income, though their workload is one of the lightest. ...
Specialists earn an average of two and often four times as much as primary care physicians in the United States, a differential that far surpasses that in all other developed countries, according to Miriam Laugesen, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. That earnings gap has deleterious effects: Only an estimated 25 percent of new physicians end up in primary care, at the very time that health policy experts say front-line doctors are badly needed, according to Dr. Christine Sinsky, an Iowa internist who studies physician satisfaction. In fact, many pediatricians and general doctors in private practice say they are struggling to survive. ...
More than 750 lobbyists represent groups of health professionals in Washington, pushing back on any effort to limit their incomes. The biggest spenders on lobbying — $80 million annually by health professionals — closely align with the highest-paid specialties.
What the Study Found: The researchers used data from a state-based survey to look at self-reported health status and use of preventive services for 345,211 adults from 2001 to 2011. Relative to other New England states, Massachusetts residents reported gains in general health (1.7%), physical health (1.3%), and mental health (1.5%). Massachusetts residents were also more likely to access key preventive services such as Pap screening, colonoscopy, and cholesterol testing. Lower- and middle-income residents appeared to benefit most from reform: adults in households that earned up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $70,000 for a family of four) were 6.1 percent more likely to be insured than those in neighboring states and reported greater gains in health status.
Conclusions: While acknowledging that additional studies are needed to determine if these trends are consistent in the long term, the authors note that similar benefits might be associated with implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The executives' commentary was a reminder that the health-care industry doesn't set its watch by the election cycles which dominate Washington. They expected Obamacare to be a bit of a mess in 2014 -- but they're in it for the long haul.
"We believe that over time, a lot of these bumps will work themselves out," Joe Swedish, president of Wellpoint, the country’s second-largest health plan, said in an interview with The Washington Post."We have always expected it to have a sort of lumpiness to it, the rollout. It's certainly become more lumpy than one would have predicted [but] over time, this will work out." ...
And even as the health exchanges grow, they will likely still remain a smaller part of a health plan’s business. The Congressional Budget Office projects that, when fully implemented, the marketplaces will cover 7 percent of the population, or 30 million people.
AlliedBarton Security Services, a closely held firm that employs more than 63,000 people nationwide, has offered a modestly updated version of its so-called mini-med plan to employees this year and it intends to do so in 2015 as well, even though the cheap coverage fails to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
What makes the no-frills plan attractive is that it will save money for AlliedBarton and for its security-guard employees who don't incur substantial medical bills, many of whom want a low-cost option, according to the company.
What makes it possible under the health law: As long as companies offer at least one plan that complies with the law's requirements, they are free to keep offering ones that don't.
That has enabled companies to find ways to comply with the law while minimizing increases in their health-care costs. The result has been an increase in lean insurance offerings such as "fixed-indemnity" plans.
Such plans, which might cost an employee just $80 a month in premiums, generally pay a set amount for specific medical services—$70 for a doctor's visit, for example, or $20 for a prescription—without regard to the underlying cost. They limit the amount of payments or care available in a year, and can exclude entire areas of coverage, such as mental-health care. When catastrophic injury or illness strikes, they often pay little. ...
Fixed-indemnity coverage "violates the spirit of the law," said Jay Angoff, a Washington lawyer who previously headed the federal insurance-oversight office and served as Missouri's insurance commissioner. "There's a strong argument that it is inherently misleading, and it provides so little coverage that it shouldn't be sold at all." Such plans, he adds, "were never intended to survive past 2014."
Comment: By Don McCanne, M.D. What kind of rule is this? As long as employers offer to their employees a plan that complies with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but a plan that the employees cannot afford to purchase, then the employers are relieved of their penalties for providing them with almost worthless “fixed indemnity” plans, even though that means that the employees may have to pay a penalty for failing to be insured with a qualified plan. ...
Right now, several respected journalists are criticizing single payer advocates for being critical of the health care gains under the Affordable Care Act. They have it all wrong. We are not critical of the gains; we are critical of the failure to correct the major deficiencies in our system that cause so much suffering and financial hardship. Instead of tweaking a mediocre system, we should fix it. We could do that with a single payer national health program - an improved Medicare that covers all of us.
Vermont is way ahead of the pack, but Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Washington, California, Colorado and Maryland have strong single-payer movements.
First, some definitions. Single-payer is a system where the government pays all medical bills. Canada has a single-payer system. By the way, Canada’s system is not socialized medicine but socialized insurance (like Medicare). In Canada, the doctors work for themselves.
Under Section 1332, states may apply for “innovation waivers” starting in 2017. They would let states try paths to health care reform different from those mapped out by the Affordable Care Act – as long as they meet certain of its goals. States must cover as many people and offer coverage as comprehensive and affordable. And they can’t increase the federal deficit. Qualifying states would receive the same federal funding that would have been available under Obamacare.
"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.
The simple truth is, Democrats are still being outmaneuvered by Republicans on economic policy. They're letting the GOP call the shots, rhetorically, even though Republicans lost two out of three seats of federal government (the Senate and White House). They even lost the total popular vote for the House of Representatives.
Here's how Dems fumbled the economic debate. First, they seem to have accepted the Republicans' insistence that there be no tax increases for corporations, which are reaping record profits, and the very wealthy, who are capturing a historically high percentage of our national income. Democrats have treated this as a fait accompli and barely even mention these tax hikes any more, even though they're politically popular and urgently needed.
Then Democrats accepted the idea that any new initiatives, even those which address our ongoing economic crisis, must be "paid for." Since new taxes on the wealthy are off the table, beleaguered poor and middle-class Americans are the only ones left to pick up the tab -- either through reduced services or indirect tax hikes that leave corporations and rich individuals alone. ...
Besides, it's not as if Republicans actually mean what they say. Their concerns about deficit spending inevitably disappear when the subject is tax cuts for the wealthy or goodies for defense contractors. They don't really care about "paying for" anything. That's just a rhetorical device, a stalling tactic against a program which (like so many popular and useful programs) they simply hate.
If Republicans really wanted to "pay as they go" for deficit-increasing measures, they won't keep extending "temporary" tax breaks for favored constituencies. Instead they'd adopt the proposal from Howard Gleckman of Forbes magazine, who suggested that Congress apply similar "pay-for" rules to the dozens of "temporary" tax extensions that it routinely renews every year. As Gleckman points out, the benefit of those deficit-increasing tax breaks go to groups that include "Manhattan real estate developers, auto racetrack owners, movie studios, distillers of Puerto Rican rum, multinational corporations" and other business interests. ...
As for the federal deficit, it's been falling rapidly -- too rapidly for the current economy, in fact, which urgently needs short-term government investment in economic growth. Why aren't the Democrats talking about that? Why aren't they telling voters that a Democratic Congress would be passing jobs bills, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and getting the economy moving again?
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