Axios What's Next

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As big tech companies scramble to show off their latest AI projects, Google says it's making big inroads in health care applications, Jennifer reports today.

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1 big thing: Google shows off health care AI

Illustration of a robot arm lifting a medical cross

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Google showed off an array of new artificial intelligence (AI)-driven health care tools on Tuesday, Jennifer A. Kingson reports, from a souped-up chatbot that can shed light on your medical symptoms to enhanced search features that tell you if a doctor takes Medicaid.

Why it matters: There's an arms race among big tech companies to infuse their products with AI — but the results, particularly in health care, can have unwanted consequences or pitfalls, like racial bias, privacy concerns and ethical problems.

Driving the news: The "large language model" that Google has been building for the medical world — an AI chatbot called Med-PaLM 2 — now consistently passes medical exam questions with a score of 85%, placing it at "expert" doctor level, the company said.

  • That's an 18% improvement from the system's previous performance, per the company, and "far surpasses similar AI models."
  • A rival generative AI tool, ChatGPT, also passed the medical exams — but just barely. (ChatGPT's creator, OpenAI, just released a new, more powerful version of its underlying tech.)
  • Google's system is being trained to "retrieve medical knowledge, accurately answer medical questions, and provide reasoning," the company says.

Yes, but: Google acknowledges AI's shortcomings in the medical realm.

  • "There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure [Med-PaLM 2] can work in real-world settings," reads a blog post from Yossi Matias, a Google vice president of engineering and research, and Greg Corrado, its head of health AI.
  • Google found "significant gaps" when the tool was "tested against 14 criteria — including scientific factuality, precision, medical consensus, reasoning, bias and harm," per the post.

Meanwhile: Google's conversational AI technology Duplex has called hundreds of thousands of U.S. doctors to see if they accept Medicaid. The results are now displayed in Google Search, ahead of a March 31 re-enrollment deadline.

  • Google search results will also soon highlight "providers that identify as community health centers offering free or low-cost care," the company said.

What they're saying: "The future of health is consumer-driven," Karen DeSalvo, Google's chief health officer, told reporters.

  • "People will expect a mobile-first experience with more personalized insights, services and care."

Zoom out: Google is also deploying AI tools to help offer high-quality, low-cost medical diagnostics globally.

  • Ultrasound devices with Google AI are being used to detect breast cancer in Taiwan and determine gestational age in expecting mothers in Kenya.
  • Another Google AI tool that checks chest X-rays for signs of tuberculosis is being used in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Between the lines: The company is acutely aware of criticisms that "Dr. Google" can sometimes lead users to misleading or dangerous health guidance.

  • To help address those concerns, it's been adding information panels to YouTube Health about the source of some content to help users assess its credibility.
  • Another new YouTube feature helps people "find human answers" to their health questions, said Garth Graham, director and global head of YouTube Health.
  • Google also announced a partnership with ThroughLine, which connects users to free mental health crisis support in more than 100 countries.

The big picture: Even as they take breathtaking strides toward improving health care with AI, tech companies and others have been stumbling with what they've unleashed.

  • Older people covered by Medicare Advantage are finding their benefits cut off by AI algorithms no matter how dire their medical needs, a Stat News investigation found.

The bottom line: Medicine will always need to rely on a healthy mix of technology and human know-how.

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2. Ready for (electric) takeoff

Photo of the CX 300 eCTOL model aircraft. Image: BETA Technologies

The CX300 eCTOL model aircraft. Image: Beta Technologies

Electric aviation startup Beta Technologies, best known for its ALIA-250 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, is now taking orders for its more conventional CX300 model, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • The CX300 is nearly identical to the ALIA-250, but it takes off and lands like a plane, rather than vertically like a helicopter.

The big picture: Many companies are eyeing electric aircraft as a cleaner and more efficient way to move goods from warehouses to fulfillment centers, a job currently handled by relatively dirty trucks.

  • Conventionally flown electric aircraft could fill that need sooner than eVTOLs.

What they're saying: Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark tells Axios the company is responding to customer demand by offering a more conventional electric aircraft that matches existing uses while improving sustainability.

  • By removing the rotors and flying conventionally, Clark said, "You get longer range and more payload, a less expensive aircraft and a clear certification path."

Zoom in: So far, Beta's CX300 has flown a total of 22,000 miles and completed a 386-mile flight during two years of crewed testing, the company says.

  • The CX300 has several committed customers, including biotech firm United Therapeutics and Air New Zealand.

What's next: Both of Beta's models are going through the FAA certification process in parallel.

  • Beta aims to roll out the CX300 to commercial customers in 2025. It already has its military certification.

Read the rest.

3. Texas abortion suit revives encryption calls

Illustration of a padlock with a slide to unlock touch button.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A recent lawsuit in Texas against women who helped a friend access abortion medication is renewing calls for tech giants to make end-to-end encryption the default on their messaging services, Axios' Sam Sabin reports.

Driving the news: A Texas man recently filed a civil lawsuit against three women who he alleges helped his ex-wife obtain abortion-inducing medication and terminate her pregnancy, according to the Texas Tribune.

What's happening: Fight for the Future, an internet rights advocacy group, wants Meta, Twitter, Google, Apple and any other company running a messaging platform to make end-to-end encryption the default on their services.

  • If a message is end-to-end encrypted, it's impossible for tech companies to see what users are saying, and thus harder for them to comply with law enforcement data requests.

What they're saying: "The no-brainer first step is implementing default end-to-end encryption for all messaging, so that tech companies can't be forced to turn over people's private messages," Leila Nashashibi, a campaigner for Fight for the Future, said in a statement.

Yes, but: Many of the tech giants that advocates are targeting have already started implementing end-to-end encryption.

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4. Car-hailing, but make it luxe

Photo: Courtesy of Goldsainte

A new luxury car-hailing app exclusively offering rides in Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and Mercedes-Maybachs is launching in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, Axios' Alexis Clinton reports.

Details: There's a $249 initial membership fee to sign up for the service, called Goldsainte. Rides are then $99 and up per hour.

  • Members can also rent luxury cars to drive themselves, or list their own high-end vehicles for other members to rent — similar to car rental platform Turo.

What they're saying: Founder Andre Powell hopes the service will make luxury rides more accessible.

  • "There was just a certain feeling that you would experience when you’re driving down the street in these cars, and I really wanted to share that feeling with everybody," Powell tells Axios.

What’s next: Goldsainte plans to expand to other cities, including Houston and Dallas, by the end of the year.

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Big thanks to today's What's Next copy editor, Egan Millard.

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