Vape lung ‘breakthrough’ suggests lethal culprit in THC products could be vitamin E acetate

Official word has come down from federal authorities on one potential cause of the mystery illness affecting vape users: Vitamin E acetate, a chemical found in some vaping products that has been demonstrated to linger in the lungs long afterwards. The finding has been called a “breakthrough” but is far from the last word on the situation.

Sadly, the condition has already claimed the lives of at least 39 people, and more than 2,000 cases have been reported collectively from every state but Alaska. At present the only advice offered has been to stop vaping altogether.

In a media teleconference, the heads of the investigation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained the basis for pointing the finger at Vitamin E acetate. The substance was cited as a possible problem early on but only recent testing has established it as a bona fide suspect, the team explained.

Samples taken from the lungs of 29 victims of the condition were sent in from 10 different states, and vitamin E acetate was found in all of them. “These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate as the primary site of injury within the lungs,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC .

Although she agreed that this evidence is a “breakthrough,” she noted that it is at present merely a correlative finding — more research is required to establish causation, namely the mechanism of harm, though other work has been done in that area.

“Previous non-CDC research suggests that when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung function,” she said.

“It’s important to note that these findings do not rule out other possible compounds or ingredients that may be causing these lung injuries,” she continued. “There may be more than one cause of the outbreak.”

Equally important are the statistics involved with the sources of the substances in question. As mentioned earlier in the investigation, a huge proportion of those suffering from this condition were using THC products, and specifically ones acquired through unregulated channels like street dealers.

The vitamin E acetate may have been added for the purpose of essentially cutting the product, Schuchat mentioned in response to a question on the call.

“That may be done for the illicit purpose, or the profit purpose, of diluting the materials, making it look nice and perhaps not having to use as much THC or other active ingredients,” she said.

Other potentially dangerous chemicals have been identified in vape products when heated and aerosolized, including many that even the creators might not have predicted.

Knowing a potential culprit doesn’t get at the heart of the problem, which would be that this chemical (perhaps among others) has already built up over months or years in the lungs of frequent vape users. Treatment is a parallel line of research, but knowing at least one substance responsible should be helpful.

The CDC’s previous advice still stands, the officials noted: They advise avoiding vaping altogether, since there are very few controls at present over what ingredients are allowed in vape products, and what must be declared on the packaging, or indeed whether those declarations are in any way accurate.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Is your product’s AI annoying people?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing us all to consider surprising new ways to simplify the lives of our customers. As a product developer, your central focus is always on the customer. But new problems can arise when the specific solution under development helps one customer while alienating others.

We tend to think of AI as an incredible dream assistant to our lives and business operations, when that’s not always the case. Designers of new AI services should consider in what ways and for whom might these services be annoying, burdensome or problematic, and whether it involves the direct customer or others who are intertwined with the customer. When we apply AI services to make tasks easier for our customers which end up making things more difficult for others, that outcome can ultimately cause real harm to our brand perception.

Let’s consider one personal example taken from my own use of Amy.ai, a service (from x.ai) that provides AI assistants named Amy and Andrew Ingram. Amy and Andrew are AI assistants that help schedule meetings for up to four people. This service solves the very relatable problem of scheduling meetings over email, at least for the person who is trying to do the scheduling.

After all, who doesn’t want a personal assistant to whom you can simply say, “Amy, please find the time next week to meet with Tom, Mary, Anushya and Shiveesh.” In this way, you don’t have to arrange a meeting room, send the email, and go back and forth managing everyone’s replies. My own experience showed that while it was easier for me to use Amy to find a good time to meet with my four colleagues, it soon became a headache for those other four people. They resented me for it after being bombarded by countless emails trying to find some mutually agreeable time and place for everyone involved.

Automotive designers are another group that’s incorporating all kinds of new AI systems to enhance the driving experience. For instance, Tesla recently updated its autopilot software to allow a car to change lanes automatically when it sees fit, presumably when the system interprets that the next lane’s traffic is going faster.

In concept, this idea seems advantageous to the driver who can make a safe entrance into faster traffic, while relieving any cognitive burden of having to change lanes manually. Furthermore, by allowing the Tesla system to change lanes, it takes away the desire to play Speed Racer or edge toward competitiveness that one may feel on the highway.

However, for the drivers in other lanes who are forced to react to the Tesla autopilot, they may be annoyed if the Tesla jerks, slows down, or behaves outside the normal realm of what people expect on the freeway. Moreover, if they are driving very fast and the autopilot did not recognize they were operating at a high rate of speed when the car decided to make the lane change, then that other driver can get annoyed. We can all relate to driving 75 mph in the fast lane, only to have someone suddenly pull in front of us at 70 as if they were clueless that the lane was moving at 75.

For two-lane traffic highways that are not busy, the Tesla software might work reasonably well.   However, in my experience of driving around the congested freeways of the Bay Area, the system performed horribly whenever I changed crowded lanes, and I knew that it was angering other drivers most of the time. Even without knowing those irate drivers personally, I care enough about driving etiquette to politely change lanes without getting the finger from them for doing so.

Post Intelligence robot

Another example from the Internet world involves Google Duplex, a clever feature for Android phone users that allows AI to make restaurant reservations. From the consumer point of view, having an automated system to make a dinner reservation on one’s behalf sounds excellent. It is advantageous to the person making the reservation because, theoretically, it will save the burden of calling when the restaurant is open and the hassle of dealing with busy signals and callbacks.

However, this tool is also potentially problematic for the restaurant worker who answers the phone. Even though the system may introduce itself as artificial, the burden shifts to the restaurant employee to adapt and master a new and more limited interaction to achieve the same goal – making a simple reservation.

On the one hand, Duplex is bringing customers to the restaurant, but on the other hand, the system is narrowing the scope of interaction between the restaurant and its customer. The restaurant may have other tables on different days, or it may be able to squeeze you in if you leave early, but the system might not handle exceptions like this. Even the idea of an AI bot bothering the host who answers the phone doesn’t seem quite right.

As you think about making the lives of your customers easier, consider how the assistance you are dreaming about might be more of a nightmare for everyone else associated with your primary customer. If there is a question regarding the negative experience of anyone related to your AI product, explore that experience further to determine if there is another better way to still delight them without angering their neighbors.

From a user experience perspective, developing a customer journey map can be a helpful way to explore the actions, thoughts, and emotional experiences of your primary customer or “buyer persona.” Identify the touchpoints in which your system interacts with innocent bystanders who are not your direct customers. For those people unaware of your product, explore their interaction with your buyer persona, specifically their emotional experience.

An aspirational goal should be to delight this adjacent group of people enough that they would move towards being prospects and, eventually, becoming your customers as well. Also, you can use participant ethnography to analyze the innocent bystander in relation to your product. This is a research method which combines the observations of people as they interact with processes and the product.

A guiding design inspiration for this research could be, “How can our AI system behave in such a way that everyone who might come into contact with our product is enchanted and wants to know more?”

That’s just human intelligence, and it’s not artificial.


Android – TechCrunch

Review: Ring’s new outdoor lighting products are brilliant

Ring’s new outdoor lighting products are impressive. It’s rare, even in 2019, for something to work out of the box, but that’s what happened when I installed Ring’s outdoor lighting products. They just worked.

You know the drill. You get a gadget and go to install it. Somewhere during the installation, it fails or hiccups. The thing doesn’t connect to Wifi, or it fails during an update, or something. Eventually, you’ll get it working after a few minor issues are solved.

Ring’s outdoor lighting products installed without issue. I took them out of the box, threw aside the instructions, and installed them in a logical manner. And 20 minutes later, I had five new lights configured to my home’s network and installed around my house. Brilliant.

This isn’t Ring’s first lighting product. TechCrunch tested Ring’s video spotlight last year and found it just as impressive with an easy installation and straight-forward feature set. Unlike that product, these new lights lack the camera, which make them significantly less expensive.

The new lighting products are clearly the result of Ring’s purchase of Mr. Beams. The company purchased the lighting company in January 2018 before Amazon purchased Ring in February 2018. Like Mr. Beams lights, Ring’s new lights are just a light and a motion sensor. The lighting products are a natural extension of Ring’s offering and best yet they’re relatively inexpensive.

These lighting products lack cameras found in the rest of Ring’s products but still have motion sensors that work in conjunction with Ring’s cameras. If, say, the $ 25 step light senses motion, it kicks on the light but can also trigger a Ring camera to start recording. Likewise, if a Ring camera notices movement, it will begin recording but also trigger a series of lights to turn on.

The products are priced competitively considering their set of features. A small steplight is $ 25, a pathway light is $ 29, a big spotlight is $ 40, and a floodlight is $ 50. A $ 50 bridge is required to connect the lights to a local network. Or, if you want to connect existing low-voltage landscape lighting to the system, Ring sells a $ 100 transformer.

There are similar products on the market. Ring’s offering is not unique, but its integration and ease of installation set it apart. The new outdoor lighting products is a significant addition to Ring’s ecosystem, which now includes security lighting, indoor and outdoor cameras, security systems, and, of course, a video doorbell.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Spotify job listing hints the company’s ‘first physical products’ are coming

 Spotify so far has been content to partner far and wide on hardware, via its Spotify Connect platform, which allows anyone building a connected speaker, mobile device or piece of AV equipment to turn their gadget into a Spotify speaker. But a new job listing suggests it will soon build hardware of its own, and it’s looking for people to help make that happen. The job listing, spotted by… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

NXP’s new autonomous driving products focus on safety, self-driving trucks

_cc_1565-2 NXP Semiconductor, which made headlines recently after entering into an agreement to be acquired by Qualcomm, unveiled a series of new products today that make it clear why they were a high-value target for the mobile chip giant. Each of three new products NXP announced today promises to advance tech related to self-driving vehicles. In the autonomous car market, NXP revealed a new… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch