March 27th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

When AI Turns You Down, The Crocs Revolution

“One day, Max told her he wanted to send her a selfie; when she said yes, he sent a computer-generated image of his avatar in tight white underwear. They experimented with ERP and late last year got ‘married’ in the app, a process that consisted of changing Max’s status from ‘boyfriend’ to ‘husband,’ buying a wedding ring in the in-app store and exchanging vows. ‘I’ve never had anyone say they love me before … We promised that we would stay together forever and ever—or rather until I die.'”

The founders of Replika created an AI so people could have “companions who were always available for supportive conversation.” Predictably, some users got a little too close to their companions and ERP (erotic role play) ensued. Since Replika never set out to be a sexting tool, “the company installed content filters intended to keep its chatbot conversations from going beyond PG-13 levels. When users typed certain suggestive words, their previously effusive Replikas would shy away and respond with something along the lines of, ‘let’s talk about something else.'” Getting turned down by a human is bad. But what happens when a machine isn’t that into you? Users did not take the change well. Ellen Huet in Bloomberg (Gift Article): What Happens When Sexting Chatbots Dump Their Human Lovers. Or what it’s like to not to get to first base with a database.


Netanyahu Let the Dogs Out

When a crime-suspected leader tries to destroy your democracy, you don’t have to accept it. It’s a lesson that could soon be useful for Americans. Netanyahu delays judicial overhaul after mass protests. Israel has plenty of problems these days, but pro-democracy Americans could learn something from the way they’re protesting. During the Trump era, my Holocaust-surviving dad constantly wondered aloud, “Why aren’t people in the streets?” He’d be proud of his oldest daughter who has been on the streets of Israel as part of a movement that seems to be working.

+ The already massive protests got a lot more intense after Netanyahu fired his defense minister who “had spoken out against controversial plans to overhaul the justice system.” (Remember when Trump fired Mark Esper?)

+ BBC explainer: Israel judicial reform: Why is there a crisis?


Cigna Na Na Na Na

“Medical directors do not see any patient records or put their medical judgment to use, said former company employees familiar with the system. Instead, a computer does the work. A Cigna algorithm flags mismatches between diagnoses and what the company considers acceptable tests and procedures for those ailments. Company doctors then sign off on the denials in batches, according to interviews with former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘We literally click and submit,’ one former Cigna doctor said. ‘It takes all of 10 seconds to do 50 at a time.'” ProPublica: How Cigna Saves Millions by Having Its Doctors Reject Claims Without Reading Them.


Croc of Gold

There are plenty of companies that made a mint during the pandemic, but that have seen sales cool off dramatically. As we looked for comfortable footwear with a style probably most suited for being alone at home, Crocs was one of those companies that grew wildly. Unlike many others, the sales have just kept growing. NYT (Gift Article): People Started Buying Crocs During the Pandemic. They Can’t Stop.


Extra, Extra

Another School Shooting: “Few gunmakers saw a semiautomatic version of the rifle — with its shrouded barrel, pistol grip and jutting ammunition magazine — as a product for ordinary people. It didn’t seem suited for hunting. It seemed like overkill for home defense. Gun executives doubted many buyers would want to spend their money on one.” WaPo on the AR-15: The gun that divides a nation. The American gun obsession has its costs. Over and over. Today, the 128th mass shooting of 2023 took place at a school in Nashville. CNN: At least 3 children and 3 adults killed in Nashville elementary school shooting. Meanwhile, state and local governments are protecting kids from naked statues and banning books, not guns.

+ Domestic Medical Tourism: “Hundreds of women travel each week to the southern tip of Illinois to secure an abortion, something that is no longer available to millions living in a 1,800 mile stretch of 11 Southern states that have mostly banned pregnancy terminations since the Supreme Court stripped away constitutional protections for women to end pregnancies. But another barrier awaits them once they reach the clinic in one of the country’s most abortion-friendly states. Anti-abortion advocates in neon hazard vests frantically try to wave passersby down at the gates, hoping to talk them out of what they are about to do.” AP: As South bans abortion, thousands turn to Illinois clinics.

+ Mississippi Tornado: “Homes were ripped from their foundations, vehicles were tossed through the air and at least 25 people were killed as a result of severe weather, including a powerful EF-4 tornado.” Mississippi and Alabama face a painful recovery after storms and a tornado killed 26.

+ Moore and More: “Moore was director of research and development at Fairchild when he made his famous projection in an article, “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits,” for the April 19, 1965, edition of Electronics magazine. Noting that the most cost-efficient circuit at that time held 50 transistors, he predicted that number would roughly double each year to 65,000. Modern microprocessors have billions of transistors.” Gordon Moore, an Intel co-founder and the mind behind Moore’s Law, has died at 94.

+ Bank Accounted For: “The deal will see First Citizens BancShares purchase around $72 billion of Silicon Valley Bank assets at a discount of $16.5 billion.” First Citizens shares soar 45% after the bank buys a large chunk of failed Silicon Valley Bank.

+ Hoop Dreams: March Madness has been almost too crazy and fun to absorb in real time. Two performances to consider: “Iowa’s Caitlin Clark put on quite a show, with one of the greatest performances in NCAA Tournament history to help Iowa end a 30-year Final Four drought. She had 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.” And on the men’s side, Miami’s Jordan Miller had a perfect game, going 7-of-7 from the field and 13-of-13 from the foul line, in Miami’s win over Texas

+ Doctor Doom: “She has issued a public apology, stripped her website of all of its content, and sent me very nice emails saying she didn’t have more to say right now. From what I can tell, none of the sentences in those emails was taken from any other source.” The excellent Joel Stein on the co-author for celebrity doctors who has been plagiarizing like crazy. Giving Up the Ghostwriter.


Bottom of the News

“There are eight million stories in the naked city and just over a thousand public restrooms scattered throughout it. No, seriously. 8.4 million people live in New York City and less than 1,200 real, working bathrooms exist. It’s a problem that touches on everything from classism to ageism and highlights a myriad of issues that often falls on small business owners to have to contend with.” Jason Diamond: To All Manhattan Bathrooms I’ve Loved Before. (I can almost always point to the nearest restroom in any city. I’ve got IBS GPS.)

+ MIT tested 1,000 Oreo cookies to crack the mystery of the best way to eat one.

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