HBO makes some top shows, movies, and documentaries free to stream on HBO NOW and HBO GO

Giving people even more of a reason to stay home and follow the social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the US, HBO said it would be making 500 hours of programming free to stream over HBO NOW and HBO Go without a subscription starting Friday, April 3.

Shows that audiences can stream include some of the best television shows ever made like The Sopranos and The Wire, and other very good HBO shows like Veep and Six Feet Under.

Movie titles like Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Crazy, Stupid, Love and back catalog gems like (one of my favorite movies of all-time) Empire of the Sun join docu-series including McMillion$ and The Case Against Adnan Syed as free-to-stream offerings as well.

Viewers who want to watch what is inarguably the best show ever made (it’s The Wire) can download the HBO NOW or HBO GO apps or visit HBONOW.com or HBOGO.com.

The network’s distribution partners will also make the shows available to stream for free in the coming days, the company said. This offer marks the first time that HBO has made this amount of programming available for free outside of the paywall on either of its apps, the company said.

The full list of HBO content available to stream without a subscription includes:

  • Ballers (5 Seasons)

  • Barry (2 Seasons)

  • Silicon Valley (6 Seasons)

  • Six Feet Under (5 Seasons)

  • The Sopranos (7 Seasons)

  • Succession (2 Seasons)

  • True Blood (7 Seasons

  • Veep (7 Seasons)

  • The Wire (5 Seasons)

10 Docuseries and Documentaries

  • The Apollo

  • The Case Against Adnan Syed

  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher

  • I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter

  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

  • Jane Fonda in Five Acts

  • McMillion$

  • True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality

  • United Skates

  • We Are the Dream: The Kids of the MLK Oakland Oratorical Fest

20 Warner Bros. Theatricals

  • Arthur

  • Arthur 2: On the Rocks

  • Blinded By the Light

  • The Bridges of Madison County

  • Crazy, Stupid, Love

  • Empire of the Sun

  • Forget Paris

  • Happy Feet Two

  • Isn’t It Romantic?

  • The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

  • Midnight Special

  • My Dog Skip

  • Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase

  • Pan

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

  • Red Riding Hood

  • Smallfoot

  • Storks

  • Sucker Punch

  • Unknown

Pinterest CEO and a team of leading scientists launch a self-reporting COVID-19 tracking app

There have been a few scattered efforts to leverage crowd-sourced self-reporting of symptoms as a way to potentially predict and chart the progress of COVID-19 across the U.S., and around the world. A new effort looks like the most comprehensive, well-organized and credibly backed yet, however – and it’s been developed in part by Pinterest co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann.

Silbermann and a team from Pinterest enlisted the help of high school friend, and CRISPR gene-editing pioneer / MIT and Harvard Broad Institute member Dr. Feng Zhang to build what Silbermann termed in a press release a “bridge between citizens and scientists.” The result is the ‘How We Feel’ app that Silbermann developed along with input from Zhang, and a long list of well-regarded public health, computer science, therapeutics, social sincere and medical professors from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Weill Cornell and more.

How We Feel is a mobile app available for both iOS and Android, which is free to download, and which is designed to make it very easy to self-report whether or not they feel well – and if they’re feeling unwell, what symptoms they’re experiencing. It also asks for information about whether or not you’ve been tested for COVID-19, and whether you’re self-isolation, and for how long. The amount of interaction required is purposely streamlined to make it easy for anyone to contribute daily, and to do so in a minute or less.

The app doesn’t ask for or collect info including name, phone numb or email information. It includes an up-front request that users agree to donate their information, and the data collected will be aggregated and then shared with researchers, public health professionals and doctors, including those who are signed on as collaborators with the project, as well as others (and the project is encouraging collaborators to reach out if interested). Part of the team working on the project are experts in the field of ‘differential privacy,’ and a goal of the endeavor is to ensure that people’s information is used responsibly.

The How We Feel app is, as mentioned, one of a number of similar efforts out there, but this approach has a number of advantages when compared to existing projects. First, it’s a mobile app, whereas some rely on web-based portals that are less convenient for the average consumer, especially when you want continued use over time. Second, they’re motivating use through positive means – Silbermann and his wife Divya will be providing a donated meal to non-profit feeding America for every time a person downloads and uses the app for the first time, up to a maximum of 10 million meals. Finally, it’s already designed in partnership with, and backed by, world-class academic institutions and researchers, and seems best-positioned to be able to get the information it gathers to the greatest number of those in a position to help.

How We Feel is organized as an entirely independent, non-profit organization, and it’s hoping to expand its availability and scientific collaboration globally. It’s an ambitious project, but also one that could be critically important in supplementing testing efforts and other means of tracking the progress and course of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. While self-reported information on its own is far fro a 100 percent accurate or reliable source, taken in aggregate at scale, it could be a very effective leading indicator of new or emerging viral hotspots, or provide scientific researches with other valuable insights when used in combination with other signals.

U.S. markets shrug off record unemployment numbers as tech shares rise

Despite reports of historic unemployment with roughly 6.6 million Americans filing for unemployment, domestic stocks rose during regular trading today.

One day after grim estimates on the potential death toll from the COVID-19 epidemic in the US sent stocks tumbling and amid a continuing economic fallout from the government’s response to slow the spread of the disease, all three major US indices gained.

Meanwhile, the federal government in the US continues to work on the specifics of how to funnel nearly $2 trillion into the American economy as part of the CARES Act stimulus package. And pharmaceutical and medical device companies are working day and night to develop better diagnostics tools and novel therapies to treat the virus while potential vaccines slowly make their way through the regulatory approval process.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: +469.93, +2.24%
  • S&P 500: +56.40, +2.28%
  • Nasdaq Composite: +126.73, +1.72

The tech-heavy Nasdaq rose the least of the major indices, indicating that the up-day wasn’t as bright for the technology industry. This fact was underscored by a selloff among shares of SaaS and cloud stocks, as measured by the Bessemer cloud index that fell 1.4% on the day. The Nasdaq remains in bear market territory.

After-hours today, shares of Tesla shot higher after the electric car company announced delivery numbers that delighted investors. The volatile company announced 88,400 deliveries for the three-month period, ahead of expectations of 79,900 per FactSet.

Looking ahead, it doesn’t feel like the market has digested the scale of economic impact that the new unemployment claims implies; with employment falling sharply, demand contracting, and economies around the world prioritizing safety over commerce, the world could be in for more than an economic pause, or lull. We may be staring down the first weeks of a depression.

Tesla delivers 88,400 electric vehicles, beating expectations

Tesla delivered 88,400 vehicles in the first quarter, beating most analysts expectations despite a 21% decrease from the previous quarter as the COVID-19 pandemic put downward pressure on demand and created logistical challenges.

Tesla said Thursday it produced 103,000 electric vehicles in the first quarter, about 2% lower than the previous period.

The deliveries and production figures beat most analysts expectations, causing Tesla shares to jump more than 10.4% in after hours trading. Analysts, who had anticipated lower numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had varying forecasts. A consensus of analysts by FactSeat expected more than 79,908 vehicles would be delivered while Reuters reported IBES data from Refinitiv forecast numbers as high as 93,399 vehicles.

The company, which does direct sales to consumers as opposed to using dealerships, was able to beat those expectations because it continued to produce and deliver its electric vehicles to customers in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While COVID-19 still affected Tesla, the company still managed to beat its delivery numbers from the first quarter of 2019.

Here’s a breakdown of the first quarter 2020 deliveries and production:

  • Tesla delivered 88,400 vehicles (compared to 112,000 in Q4 and 63,000 in Q1 2019)
  • Tesla produced 103,000 vehicles (compared to 105,000 in Q4 and 77,100 in Q1 2019)

This quarter deliveries included some Model Y vehicles, the newest addition to Tesla’s portfolio. Model Y production started in January and deliveries began in March according to Tesla.

Tesla also said that its new Shanghai factory, which is producing the Model 3 for Chinese customers, is achieving “record levels of production, despite significant setbacks.” Tesla didn’t provide any details on the levels of production at the Shanghai factory. The first public deliveries of Model 3 sedans produced at its Shanghai factory began January 7, one year after Tesla began construction on its first factory outside the United States.

Flagship Pioneering raises $1.1 billion to spend on sustainability and health-focused biotech

Flagship Pioneering, the Boston-based biotech company incubator and holding company, said it has raised $1.1 billion for its Flagship Labs unit.

Flagship, which raised $1 billion back in 2019 for growth stage investment vehicles, develops and operates startups that leverage biotechnology innovation to provide goods and services that improve human health and promote sustainable industries.

“We’re honored to have the strong support of our existing Limited Partners, as well as the interest from a select group of new Limited Partners, to support Flagship’s unique form of company origination during this time of unprecedented economic uncertainty,” said Noubar Afeyan, the founder and chief executive of Flagship Pioneering, in a statement.

In addition to its previous focus on health and sustainability, Flagship will use the new funds to focus on new medicines, artificial intelligence and “health security”, which the company says is “designed to create a range of products and therapies to improve societal health defenses by treating pre-disease states before they escalate,” according to Afeyan.

Flagship companies are already on the forefront of the healthcare industry’s efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Portfolio company Moderna is one of the companies leading efforts to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

In the 20 years since its launch, Flagship has 15 wholly owned companies and another 26 growth stage companies among its portfolio of investments.

New companies include: Senda Biosciences, Generate Biomedicines, Tessera Therapeutics, Cellarity, Cygnal Therapeutics, Ring Therapeutics, and Integral Health. Growth Companies developed or backed by Flagship include Ohana Biosciences, Kintai Therapeutics, and Repertoire Immune Medicines.

Two of the companies in the Flagship Labs portfolio have already had initial public offerings in the past two years, the company said. Kaleido Biosciences and Axcella Health raised public capital in 2019 and Moderna Therapeutics conducted a $575 million secondary offering earlier this year.

Henry Ford Health System to conduct first large U.S. study of hydroxychloroquine’s ability to prevent COVID-19

Despite false assertions by the President to the contrary, any potential treatments to counter or prevent COVID-19 are still only at the stage of early investigations, which include one-off treatment with special individual case authorizations, and small-scale clinical examinations. Nothing so far has approached the level of scrutiny needed to actually say anything definitively about their actual ability to treat COVID-19 or the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it, but the first large-scale U.S. clinical study for one treatment candidate is seeking volunteers and looking to get underway.

The study will be conducted by the Henry Ford Health System, which is seeking 3,000 volunteers from healthcare and first responder working environments. Depending on response, the researchers behind the study are looking to begin as early as next week. Study lead researcher Dr. William W. O’Neil said in a press release announcing the study that the goal is to seek a more definitive scientific answer to the question of whether or not hydroxychloroquine might work as a preventative medicine to help protect medical frontline workers with greater risk exposure from contracting the coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine (as well as chloroquine) has been in the spotlight as a potential COVID-19 treatment due mostly to repeated name-check that President Trump has given the drug during his daily White House coronavirus task force press briefings. Trump has gone too far in suggesting that the drug, which is commonly used both as an anti-malarial, and in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, could be an effective treatment and should be thrust into use. At one point, he claimed that he FDA had granted an emergency approval for its use as a COVID-19 treatment, but Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified that it was not approved for that use, and that clinical studies still need to be performed to evaluate how it works in addressing COVID-19.

Studies thus far around hydroxychloroquine have been small-scale, as mentioned. One, conducted by researchers in France, produced results that indicated the drug was effective in treating those already infected, particularly when paired with a specific antibiotic. Another, more recent study from China showed that there was no difference in terms of viral duration or symptoms when comparing treatment with hydroxychloroquine with treatment using standard anti-viral drugs, already a common practice in addressing cases of the disease.

This Henry Ford study looks like it could provide better answers to some of these questions around the drug, though the specific approach of seeking to validate prophylactic (preventative) use will mean treatment-oriented applications will still have to be studied separately. The design of the study will be a true blind study, with participants split into three groups that receive “unidentified, specific pills” (possibly anti-virals or some equivalent); hydroxychloroquine; or placebo pills, respectively. They won’t know which they’ve received, and they’ll be contacted by researchers running the study weekly, then in-person both at week four and week eight to determine if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, or any side effects from the medication. They’ll get regular blood draws, and the results will be compared to see if there’s any difference between each cohort in terms of how many contracted COVID-19.

These are frontline healthcare workers, so in theory they should unfortunately be at high risk of contracting the disease. That, plus the large sample size, should provide results that provide much clearer answers about hydroxychloroquine’s potential preventative effects. Even after the study is complete, other competing large-scale trials would ideally be run to prove out or cast doubt on these results, but we’ll be a better position than we are now to say anything scientifically valid about the drug and its use.

Instacart to provide shoppers with face masks, hand sanitizers and thermometers

Instacart will start providing health and safety kits to its full-service shoppers. These kits will include a face mask, hand sanitizer and a thermometer, the company announced today.

The kits will be available for free to shoppers starting next week. Shoppers, according to Instacart, will be able to request a kit by registering with their Instacart shopper email address. In order to keep up with demand, Instacart will update its inventory daily. For in-store shoppers, Instacart will bring the face masks to shoppers at their respective retail locations.

“Our teams have been working around the clock over the last few weeks to proactively secure personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and face masks, without taking away valuable resources from healthcare workers given inventory delays and global supply scarcity,” Instacart President Nilam Ganenthiran said in a statement. “We want to provide customers with an essential service they can rely on to get their groceries and household goods, while also offering safe and flexible earnings opportunities to Instacart personal shoppers. As COVID-19 evolves, today’s health and safety solutions will be tomorrow’s table stakes, and our teams are working quickly to introduce new services and features to ensure our shopper community is supported as this situation unfolds.”

This announcement comes amid worker strikes led by the folks over at Gig Workers Collective. Last Friday, a group of Instacart shoppers announced plans to strike and not return to work until the company meets its demands. Those demands were for Instacart to provide personal protective equipment at no cost to workers and hazard pay of $5 extra per order, change the default tip to 10%, extend the sick pay policy to those who have a doctor’s note for a pre-existing condition that may make them more susceptible to contracting the virus and extend the deadline to qualify for those benefits beyond April 8th.

Instacart has since extended that deadline and changed the default tip to a customer’s last tip, but shoppers say that’s not enough. In a Medium post, workers called Instacart’s response “insulting” and “a sick joke.

“It’s abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior,” the group wrote in a Medium post.

Instacart is not the only company stepping up its safety protocols. Earlier today, Amazon said it would start providing surgical masks for its warehouse workers and employees at Whole Foods.

Activity-monitoring startup Zensors repurposes its tech to help coronavirus response

Computer vision techniques used for commercial purposes are turning out to be valuable tools for monitoring people’s behavior during the present pandemic. Zensors, a startup that uses machine learning to track things like restaurant occupancy, lines, and so on, is making its platform available for free to airports and other places desperate to take systematic measures against infection.

The company, founded two years ago but covered by TechCrunch in 2016, was among the early adopters of computer vision as a means to extract value from things like security camera feeds. It may seem obvious now that cameras covering a restaurant can and should count open tables and track that data over time, but a few years ago it wasn’t so easy to come up with or accomplish that.

Since then Zensors has built a suite of tools tailored to specific businesses and spaces, like airports, offices, and retail environments. They can count open and occupied seats, spot trash, estimate lines, and all that kind of thing. Coincidentally, this is exactly the kind of data that managers of these spaces are now very interested in watching closely given the present social distancing measures.

Zensors co-founder Anuraag Jain told Carnegie Mellon University — which the company was spun out of — that it had received a number of inquiries from the likes of airpots regarding applying the technology to public health considerations.

Software that counts how many people are in line can be easily adapted to, for example, estimate how close people are standing and send an alert if too many people are congregating or passing through a small space.

“Rather than profiting off them, we thought we would give our help for free,” said Jain. And so, for the next two months at least, Zensors is providing its platform for free to “selected entities who are on the forefront of responding to this crisis, including our airport clients.”

The system has already been augmented to answer COVID-19-specific questions like whether there are too many people in a given area, when a surface was last cleaned and whether cleaning should be expedited, and how many of a given group are wearing face masks.

Airports surely track some of this information already, but perhaps in a much less structured way. Using a system like this could be helpful for maintaining cleanliness and reducing risk, and no doubt Zensors hopes that having had a taste via what amounts to a free trial, some of these users will become paying clients. Interested parties should get in touch with Zensors via its usual contact page.

Apple accidentally confirms the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags

Whoops! Apple inadvertently revealed the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags, in a support video uploaded to its YouTube account today. The video, “How to erase your iPhone,” offers a tutorial about resetting an iPhone to factory settings. Around the 1:43 mark, it instructs users to turn off “Find my iPhone” as part of the process. On the Settings page that then appears, another option for “Enable Offline Finding” is shown, and beneath that, the text references AirTags by name.

Specifically, it says: “Offline finding enables this device and AirTags to be found when not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular.”

The discovery was first spotted by the eagle-eyed blog Appleosophy.

Apple has since pulled down the video. (A copy of the video is embedded below.)

AirTags, essentially Apple’s Tile competitor, were already known to be in the works. Based on details and assets found in Apple’s iOS code, AirTags are believed to be small tracking tiles with Bluetooth connectivity that can be used to find lost items — just like Tile.

The difference is that Apple’s AirTags will benefit from deeper integration with iOS, including within its “Find My” app. There, the tags will show up in a new “Items” tab allowing you to keep track of items that tend to get lost or stolen — like your keys, wallet or even your bike.

According to reports from MacRumors, the tags will feature a removable CR2032 coin cell battery, also similar to Tile.

Apple’s intention to copy Tile’s concept has not gone unnoticed by Tile.

The company on Wednesday told a congressional panel that Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has “gotten worse, not better.”

During the hearing, Tile referenced Apple’s plans to integrate its own product into the “Find My” app. Tile and other Bluetooth trackers won’t be able to do the same. They also have to ask for background location access repeatedly, while Apple’s AirTags, presumably, will not. That gives Apple’s own product an advantage as it owns the platform.

Apple has been asked for comment.

Image credits: Apple, via YouTube; MacRumors 

Google and USCF collaborate on machine learning tool to help prevent harmful prescription errors

Machine learning experts working at Google Health have published a new study in tandem with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF)’s computational health sciences department that describes a machine learning model the researchers built that can anticipate normal physician drug prescribing patterns, using a patient’s electronic health records (EHR) as input. That’s useful because around 2 percent of patients who end up hospitalized are affected by preventable mistakes in medication prescriptions, some instances of which can even lead to death.

The researchers describe the system as working in a similar manner to automated, machine learning-based fraud detection tools that are commonly used by credit card companies to alert customers of possible fraudulent transactions: They essentially build a baseline of what’s normal consumer behavior based on past transactions, and then alert your bank’s fraud department or freeze access when they detect a behavior that is not in line with and individual’s baseline behavior.

Similarly, the model trained by Google and UCSF worked by identifying any prescriptions that “looked abnormal for the patient and their current situation.” That’s a much more challenging proposition in the case of prescription drugs, vs. consumer activity – because courses of medication, their interactions with one another, and the specific needs, sensitivities and conditions of any given patient all present an incredibly complex web to untangle.

To make it possible, the researchers used electronic health records from de-identified patient that include vital signs, lab results, prior medications and medical procedures, as well as diagnoses and changes over time. They paired this historical data with current state information, and came up with various models to attempt to output an accurate prediction of a course of prescription for a given patient.

Their best-performing model was accurate “three quarters of the time,” Google says, which means that it matched up with what a physician actually decided to prescribe in a large majority of cases. It was also even more accurate (93%) in terms of predicting at least one medication that would fall within a top ten list of a physician’s most likely medicine choices for a patient – even if its top choice didn’t match the doctor’s.

The researchers are quick to note that though the model thus far has been fairly accurate in predicting a normal course of prescription, that doesn’t mean it’s able to successfully detect deviations from that yet with any high degree of accuracy. Still, it’s a good first step upon which to build that kind of flagging system.