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Airlines Solve Lost Luggage

February 15, 2017, 3:25 PM UTC

In this morning’s news, three problems that technology is unexpectedly solving and one problem it unexpectedly isn’t solving.

-Airlines are getting better. If the cognitive dissonance of that statement makes you dizzy, let’s acknowledge that the overall airport-airline experience can be miserable. But last year, U.S.-based airlines achieved the lowest levels of lost luggage, canceled flights, and bumped passengers in decades, the U.S. Transportation Department says. Luggage is safer because airlines have invested in technology that tracks every piece. Flights were less likely to be canceled partly because of fewer major storms last year, but also because weather forecasting is more precise, enabling more planes to get into and out of airports even when weather is bad. You’re less likely to get bumped because airline software keeps getting better at predicting how many passengers will check in. Your chances of getting bumped last year: 1 in 16,129.

-Voice, video, and conference calls are getting better. This is surprising because so-called “unified communication” for business is an arena of ferocious competition among highly innovative giants – Google, Microsoft, and Cisco. Yet for users, considerable pain remains. Now Amazon is removing some of it with cloud-based software called Chime. I was particularly envious of a feature that lets a conference call administrator figure out whose radio is blaring in the background and mute that person’s mic. Why didn’t one of those other big companies figure that out?

-Heart disease is getting worse. We’re in an age of medical miracles – researchers have just demonstrated tech that gives amputees “intuitive control” of artificial limbs – yet a new report from the American Heart Association is depressing and alarming. Cardio-vascular disease is increasing much faster than previously forecast. By 2035, the AHA now says, 45% of U.S. adults will suffer from it. AHA president Steven Houser says heart disease “is on a course that could bankrupt our nation’s economy and health care system.” Why hasn’t medical technology stopped it? Because it’s a so-called lifestyle disease; we mostly cause it by the way we choose to live, and even tech isn’t keeping up with our self-destructive habits. But if heart disease is getting worse, at least…

-Care for old people at home is getting better. Intuition Robotics announced yesterday it had raised $6 million to help it develop its ElliQ “autonomous active aging companion.” This is one of several robotic devices, including an impressive one from IBM, being designed for the mushrooming market of old people living alone at home. The surprise is that while these devices are still far from lifelike, they’re already close enough to be genuinely accepted and comforting to their intended users.

Three good surprises, one bad one. The only lesson is that technology will continue to surprise us, for better and worse. Mostly better.

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What We're Reading Today

Humana to pull out of Obamacare for 2018
The company is the first major insurer to pull out of the Obamacare exchanges since President Trump took office; Trump says the news strengthens his case for repeal. The decision comes the same day Bruce Broussard's company scrapped its proposed merger with Aetna, which was blocked on antitrust concerns.   CNNMoney

Anthem sues Cigna
David Cordani's Cigna informed Anthem it's giving up on their proposed $54-billion merger after it was blocked on antitrust grounds. Anthem is on the hook for a $1.85-billion breakup fee, but instead of paying, Joseph Swedish's company is suing Cigna, saying the deal could still be closed. Reuters

American Airlines pilots slam CEO... 
...for skipping last week's meeting of air travel executives with President TrumpDoug Parker said he had a previous engagement. The pilots' union announced a vote of no confidence in Parker, citing his absence from the meeting and other management decisions -- plus insufficient pay increases. Fortune

Court offers initial approval of Volkswagen settlement
Matthias Müller's company agreed to fix or replace larger diesel vehicles carrying  emissions-cheating devices at a cost of $1.2 billion. If regulators deny final approval, the company will have to buy back 77,000 vehicles at a cost of $4 billion. WSJ

Building Better Leaders

A cofounder relationship can set the tone...
...for a company's culture. "Your employees can sense if there's tension, and your leadership team can sense it, and it's very important to squash any perception of animosity," says Brideside cofounder Nicole Staple. "If there is animosity, face it head on, because it can be dangerous for retention and overall morale." Kellogg Insight

Common misperceptions of startup life
Prezi CEO Peter Arvai says most startups don't have a fraternity culture. Many don't start with the help of venture capital; founders should widen their funding  horizons. Fortune

Sleep-deprived judges...
…impose sentences that are 5% longer, on average. Managers may also dole out harsher punishment when short of sleep. Harvard Business Review

White House Comings & Goings

Trump's campaign had repeated contact with Russia
Advisers and associates of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had repeated contact with Russian officials during the campaign, reports the New York Times, citing sources who say the U.S. intercepted phone calls and records. The contacts occurred around the same time that investigators began to suspect Russia was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee. But no evidence so far suggests that Trump advisers colluded with Russia on the hacks. Fortune

Kellyanne Conway's endorsement of Ivanka Trump's products...
...violated ethics rules, says the Office of Government Ethics. The office said Conway should be disciplined, which typically would take the form of a letter of reprimand or termination. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had been counseled on the issue but did not give details. NYT

Trump reverses U.S. policy on two-state solution
The night before President Trump's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior White House official said that creating two states isn't a requirement for peace between Israel and Palestine, breaking with long-established U.S. and international policy. Netanyahu won reelection in 2015 on a vow that he would never accept a separate Palestinian state. Deutsch Welle

Fortune Reads and Videos

Goldman Sachs withholds bonuses
Over 100 bankers aren't getting a bonus for 2016, indicating the company is taking a hard line on performance.  Fortune

Hacker breaches major universities
Cornell and New York University are among the schools the hacker, using the name Rasputin, broke into. Fortune 

Ikea's best design ever...
...was the Klippan loveseat, says company design chief  Marcus Engman. Fortune

American Girl introduces a boy doll
For the first time in the Mattel-owned company's 31-year history. Fortune

Quote of the Day

"Maybe, maybe not. It’s something the two sides have to agree to. It’s not for us to impose that vision...A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not our goal." -- A senior White House official explaining that President Trump will not insist that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks reach a two-state solution. Washington Post

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau