Axios AM

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April 24, 2021

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1 big thing: Big Data upends life insurance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

AI and data science are transforming life insurance — one of the oldest industries in existence, Axios Future correspondent Bryan Walsh writes.

  • With a business model built on predicting the future of its customers, the industry is digging into the prognostication powers of machine learning.
  • Impediments include the industry's ingrained conservatism — and the dangers of AI bias.

How it works: A McKinsey report envisions a near future where AI has shifted the insurance industry from the traditional "detect and repair" to "predict and prevent," with active insurance policies that respond in real time to changing customer behavior.

  • Tools include drones, data collected by the internet of things — sensors and software behind smart appliances, for instance.
  • Information from such devices will allow insurance companies to "provide personalized wellness products and care suggestions," according to a separate McKinsey report.

Startups are disrupting the giants:

  • Lemonade — which last year became the first "insurtech" company to go public — overhauls the hassle of buying insurance, with a digital-first interface and machine-learning analytics.
  • Legacy life insurance providers use frozen-in-time actuarial tables to write policies. Insurtech companies like Traffk draw on thousands of data points to provide a more personalized analysis.

What we're watching: Some experts worry more precise insurance rates set by AI could end up discriminating against certain groups, which in turn could draw the attention of regulators.

🔮 Sign up for Bryan Walsh's newsletter, Axios Future.

2. Worthy of your time: Forgotten history of U.S. purges of Chinese

Illustration: Valerie Chiang/The New Yorker. Source text: PBS, Library of Congress. Photos: Frances Benjamin Johnston/Library of Congress (children), Getty. Used by permission

Surging violence against Asian Americans "is a reminder that America’s present reality reflects its exclusionary past," writes Michael Luo, editor of

The vast majority of Chinese in America in the nineteenth century arrived in San Francisco, which had been a settlement of several hundred people before the gold rush, but ballooned into a chaotic metropolis of nearly three hundred and fifty thousand by the end of the century. ...
White workers ... began to see the Chinese as competition — first for gold and, later, for scarce jobs. ... In remote mining communities, where vigilante justice often prevailed, white miners drove the Chinese off their claims. ...

Luo covers the "prolonged economic slump in the mid-eighteen-seventies [that] fanned white resentment":

Factories on the East Coast shuttered, and unemployed workers migrated West searching for work. The completion of the transcontinental railroad also left many laborers in need of jobs. ... In central California, white workers began burning down Chinese homes. ...
Still, the Chinese clung to their place in America. Some turned to the court system for help.

Luo, a Harvard grad and former N.Y. Times correspondent and editor (Michael and I bonded during our misspent youths on campaign buses), concludes:

I owe my American story to the opening of America's gates. Both of my parents emigrated from Taiwan for graduate school. My twin brother and I were born in Pittsburgh, where my father had begun working as an electrical engineer. Our story is one of upward mobility.

Keep reading.

3. Police protesters use umbrellas

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The Umbrella Movement was part of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, but the tactic is also being used in America:

  • Calling for racial justice and police reforms, demonstrators marched in Washington yesterday with black umbrellas to conceal their faces.

In Seattle last year, protesters used umbrellas to thwart pepper spray.

  • In Hong Kong, their use goes back to 2014 as "tools for expression, privacy and self-defense ... a staple of the anti-government demonstrations," Bloomberg News reports.

4. A space first: Reused capsule delivers crew

Photo: NASA via AP

In this image from NASA TV, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft (left) approaches the International Space Station today.

  • The recycled SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts arrived a day after launching from Florida.

Go deeper: Axios latest.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off yesterday from Kennedy Space Center.

5. Hybrid offices learn from pitfalls of hybrid school

As America reopens, hybrid approaches to work and school are looking permanent — with a host of unresolved questions, the aforementioned Bryan Walsh writes in Axios Future.

  • Why it matters: The move to hybrid work is "a disruption as great as last year’s sudden shift to remote work," as a sprawling Microsoft study puts it.

How it works: Permanent hybrid setups require physical changes to office space to promote collaboration over solo work, and more complex logistics to ensure the right team members are in at the right time.

  • It also puts additional burdens on managers who will need to juggle employees working in very different environments at any given time.
  • At its worst, hybrid work may resemble the subpar hybrid schooling too many American students have endured over the past year, with overworked teachers struggling to simultaneously handle in-person and remote students.
  • A hybrid future also risks entrenching the inequalities of the pandemic, with some better-paid employees free to work as they wish, while others are forced to continue commuting.

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6. 🎥 1 film thing: Oscars — live from a train station

Production trucks at Union Station in L.A. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Tomorrow afternoon, "members of the Hollywood elite will gather for the 93rd Academy Awards right down the hall from a 4:40 p.m. outbound train to Anaheim," The Wall Street Journal's Erich Schwartzel and Ray A. Smith write in an A-hed (subscription):

This year’s Academy Awards will be held at Union Station, an 82-year-old mass transit hub in downtown Los Angeles, 8 miles (or 11 stops on the Metro B Line) from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where the Oscars are usually held.
The goal, organizers say, is to keep the pandemic from turning a typical packed Oscar ceremony into a potential superstar-spreader event by splitting it between two locations — the Hollywood theater and the train station.
Union Station on Thursday. Photo: Robert Gauthier/L.A. Times via Getty Images

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