Friday, December 19, 2014

Not just tolls: E-Z Pass keeping an eye on speeders

Not just tolls: E-Z Pass keeping an eye on speeders
  
By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY 2:28 p.m. EST December 19, 2014

Warning to motorists: Don't speed in the toll lanes. E-Z Pass is watching.

Several states, including New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania, say they monitor speeds through the fast pass toll lanes and will suspend your E-Z Pass for multiple speeding violations.

In all, five of the 15 E-Z Pass states have some kind of rules on the books for breaking the speed limit in the convenience lanes.

"You can lose your E-Z Pass privileges if you speed through E-Z Pass lanes," says Dan Weiller, director of communications for the New York State Thruway Authority. "You get a couple of warnings. We don't have the power to give a ticket, but we do have to power to revoke your E-Z Pass, which we will."

He and tolling officials in several other states say the issue is the safety of human toll collectors. "At most toll barriers, we have a mix of E-Z Pass lanes and standard toll lanes," Weiller says.

On Maryland toll roads, drivers' speed is monitored in the free-flowing toll lanes, which have a 30 mph speed limit, says Becky Freeberger, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. "If we clock you at 12 mph more than that, we will send you a warning, saying slow down," she says. "It's not a ticket." If a driver gets a second such notice within six months, their E-Z Pass account can be suspended for up to 60 days.

In Pennsylvania, a warning usually suffices for lead-footed drivers, says Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. "If a collector spots an E-Z Pass customer blasting through at a high rate of speed, they'll get a license plate," he says. "We do have the ability to send a warning letter to the customer, and that has proven effective. If the customer doesn't heed the warning we have the ability to suspend their E-Z Pass privileges but we haven't done that recently."

DeFebo notes that while states can collect tolls using transponders based in other states, they don't yet have the ability to access the account information of out-of-state drivers. "We don't have the ability to send a warning letter to those customers," he says. "As far as I know there is no reciprocity (with other states) on this issue."

That's one reason the state is slow to suspend E-Z Pass accounts, he says. "It would be like letting others get off the hook but going after our own customers."

West Virginia can suspend the accounts of E-Z Pass customers who repeatedly speed but rarely does so, says Etta Keeney, customer services supervisor with West Virginia Parkways Authority.

"If they're over a certain speed, they receive an informational letter, like a warning, please slow down for your safety and ours," she says. "If they continue to speed, if it's like a habitual problem, we can take their privileges."

In Rhode Island lasers are used to monitor speeds in E-Z Pass lanes on the Newport Bridge, also known as the Claiborne Pell Bridge, the state's only tolled facility, says Jim Swanberg, director of plaza operations, safety and security for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. He says drivers can be "disqualified" for speeding after getting a warning.

Police enforce speed limits on E-Z Pass toll roads, and some states say they don't gather any information on motorists' speed.

In Virginia, E-Z Pass account holders sign a customer agreement to abide by the speed limit through toll plazas, says Tamara Rollison, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "There is no consequence spelled out if someone breaks the speed limit regarding their E-Z Pass usage," she says. "The expectation is you obey the law."

On North Carolina's Quick Pass toll roads, which also accept E-Z Pass accounts, driver speeds are not monitored, says Steve Abbott, a spokesman with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The state's toll roads, which opened in 2011, were the first in the nation to be built without toll booths, he says. "It's all transponders or (billing) by mail," Abbott says. "If you drive it at 20 mph or 70 mph, it doesn't note the speed of the vehicle," he says.

Speeding and the other E-Z Pass states:

Delaware. "We don't monitor speeds with the E-Z Pass system," says Mike Williams, chief of communications with the state Division of Motor Vehicles. "Speeding is a law enforcement issue in Delaware.

Maine. Speeds are not monitored, says Erin Courtney, a spokeswoman with the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Massachusetts. E-Z Pass does not monitor drivers' speeds on toll roads nor as they drive through toll plazas; drivers don't lose E-Z Pass privileges for speeding through toll plazas, says Amanda Richard, deputy press secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

New Hampshire. "New Hampshire Turnpike System presently does not use the E-Z Pass equipment in the toll plazas or open road toll lanes to collect speed data and enforce speeds through the plaza or toll zone, nor do we suspend E-Z Pass privileges," says Christopher Waszczuk, administrator of the New Hampshire Bureau of Turnpikes. "The state police is used to legally enforce the speed limit in locations susceptible to speeding."

New Jersey. The E-Z Pass equipment at toll plazas on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway records the speed of vehicles coming through, says Thomas Feeney, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "But we don't issue tickets or suspend privileges," he says.

Ohio. "We do not monitor speed using E-Z Pass," says Adam Greenslade, spokesman for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. "Also, as far as speeding at our toll plazas is concerned, we have a completely gated system. Therefore, even E-Z Pass users are required to slow down enough to give the gate time to open."

Information for E-Z Pass in Indiana and I-PASS in Illinois was not available.



Instagram deletes millions of accounts in spam purge

19 December 2014 Last updated at 06:30 ET

Instagram deletes millions of accounts in spam purge
By Dave Lee

Technology reporter, BBC News

Photo-sharing app Instagram has removed millions of accounts believed to be posting spam, angering many legitimate users.

People who lost a lot of followers criticised the action, dubbing it the "Instagram Rapture".

Like its parent company Facebook, Instagram routinely removes accounts to limit spam and prevent users buying followers to appear more popular.

Rapper Akon reportedly lost 56% of his followers in the cull.

Figures collated by developer Zach Allia - not affiliated to Instagram - totted up the impact of the purge on the site's top 100 accounts.

The big losers were Justin Bieber (minus 3,538,228 followers), and an online marketing specialist called Wellington Campos, which lost 3,284,304 followers overnight.

One account, chiragchirag78, lost 99% of his followers - 3,660,460 - before he himself was deleted.

Instagram's own account on the site lost 18,880,211 followers overnight.

'Omg'

Instagram had warned its users that the deletion was coming in a blog post earlier this month.

"We've been deactivating spammy accounts from Instagram on an ongoing basis to improve your experience," wrote chief executive and founder Kevin Systrom.

"As part of this effort, we will be deleting these accounts forever, so they will no longer be included in follower counts. This means that some of you will see a change in your follower count."

Matt McGorry Matt McGorry, star of Orange is the New Black, joked about the deletions
Reacting to the purge, many of the site's users directed harsh words at Instagram - while others saw the lighter side.

Rapper Ma$e, who lost more than a million followers, deleted his account after he was accused of paying for more followers, while video blogger Jamie Curry tweeted: "I lost 30k followers on instagram omg."

Matt McGorry, an actor who has starred in prison drama Orange is the New Black, wrote: "There may be 545k Instagram followers left but my 11k spam followers that disappeared took a piece of my heart with them.

"I'll honour the memory of each of my 11k spam Instagram followers that I lost with the lighting of candles. Well, one candle. I only have one."



German researchers discover a flaw that could let anyone listen to your cell calls

German researchers discover a flaw that could let anyone listen to your cell calls

By Craig Timberg December 18 at 2:10 PM 

German researchers have discovered security flaws that could let hackers, spies and criminals listen to private phone calls and intercept text messages on a potentially massive scale – even when cellular networks are using the most advanced encryption now available.

The flaws, to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, are the latest evidence of widespread insecurity on SS7, the global network that allows the world’s cellular carriers to route calls, texts and other services to each other. Experts say it’s increasingly clear that SS7, first designed in the 1980s, is riddled with serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.

The flaws discovered by the German researchers are actually functions built into SS7 for other purposes – such as keeping calls connected as users speed down highways, switching from cell tower to cell tower – that hackers can repurpose for surveillance because of the lax security on the network.

Those skilled at the myriad functions built into SS7 can locate callers anywhere in the world, listen to calls as they happen or record hundreds of encrypted calls and texts at a time for later decryption. There also is potential to defraud users and cellular carriers by using SS7 functions, the researchers say.

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

“It’s like you secure the front door of the house, but the back door is wide open,” said Tobias Engel, one of the German researchers.

Engel, founder of Sternraute, and Karsten Nohl, chief scientist for Security Research Labs, separately discovered these security weaknesses as they studied SS7 networks in recent months, after The Washington Post reported the widespread marketing of surveillance systems that use SS7 networks to locate callers anywhere in the world. The Post reported that dozens of nations had bought such systems to track surveillance targets and that skilled hackers or criminals could do the same using functions built into SS7. (The term is short for Signaling System 7 and replaced previous networks called SS6, SS5, etc.)
 
The researchers did not find evidence that their latest discoveries, which allow for the interception of calls and texts, have been marketed to governments on a widespread basis. But vulnerabilities publicly reported by security researchers often turn out to be tools long used by secretive intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency or Britain’s GCHQ, but not revealed to the public.

“Many of the big intelligence agencies probably have teams that do nothing but SS7 research and exploitation,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the ACLU and an expert on surveillance technology. “They’ve likely sat on these things and quietly exploited them.”

The GSMA, a global cellular industry group based in London, did not respond to queries seeking comment about the vulnerabilities that Nohl and Engel have found. For the Post’s article in August on location tracking systems that use SS7, GSMA officials acknowledged problems with the network and said it was due to be replaced over the next decade because of a growing list of security and technical issues.

The German researchers found two distinct ways to eavesdrop on calls using SS7 technology. In the first, commands sent over SS7 could be used to hijack a cell phone’s “forwarding” function -- a service offered by many carriers. Hackers would redirect calls to themselves, for listening or recording, and then onward to the intended recipient of a call. Once that system was in place, the hackers could eavesdrop on all incoming and outgoing calls indefinitely, from anywhere in the world.

The second technique requires physical proximity but could be deployed on a much wider scale. Hackers would use radio antennas to collect all the calls and texts passing through the airwaves in an area. For calls or texts transmitted using strong encryption, such as is commonly used for advanced 3G connections, hackers could request through SS7 that each caller’s carrier release a temporary encryption key to unlock the communication after it has been recorded.

Nohl on Wednesday demonstrated the ability to collect and decrypt a text message using the phone of a German senator, who cooperated in the experiment. But Nohl said the process could be automated to allow massive decryption of calls and texts collected across an entire city or a large section of a country, using multiple antennas.

“It’s all automated, at the push of a button,” Nohl said. “It would strike me as a perfect spying capability, to record and decrypt pretty much any network… Any network we have tested, it works.”

Those tests have included more than 20 networks worldwide, including T-Mobile in the United States. The other major U.S. carriers have not been tested, though Nohl and Engel said it’s likely at least some of them have similar vulnerabilities. (Several smartphone-based text messaging systems, such as Apple’s iMessage and Whatsapp, use end-to-end encryption methods that sidestep traditional cellular text systems and likely would defeat the technique described by Nohl and Engel.)

In a statement, T-Mobile said: “T-Mobile remains vigilant in our work with other mobile operators, vendors and standards bodies to promote measures that can detect and prevent these attacks."

The issue of cell phone interception is particularly sensitive in Germany because of news reports last year, based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that a phone belonging to Chancellor Angela Merkel was the subject of NSA surveillance. The techniques of that surveillance have not become public, though Nohl said that the SS7 hacking method that he and Engel discovered is one of several possibilities.

U.S. embassies and consulates in dozens of foreign cities, including Berlin, are outfitted with antennas for collecting cellular signals, according to reports by German magazine Der Spiegel, based on documents released by Snowden. Many cell phone conversations worldwide happen with either no encryption or weak encryption.

The move to 3G networks offers far better encryption and the prospect of private communications, but the hacking techniques revealed by Nohl and Engel undermine that possibility. Carriers can potentially guard their networks against efforts by hackers to collect encryption keys, but it’s unclear how many have done so. One network that operates in Germany, Vodafone, recently began blocking such requests after Nohl reported the problem to the company two weeks ago.

Nohl and Engel also have discovered new ways to track the locations of cell phone users through SS7. The Post story, in August, reported that several companies were offering governments worldwide the ability to find virtually any cell phone user, virtually anywhere in the world, by learning the location of their cell phones through an SS7 function called an “Any Time Interrogation” query.

Some carriers block such requests, and several began doing so after the Post’s report. But the researchers in recent months have found several other techniques that hackers could use to find the locations of callers by using different SS7 queries. All networks must track their customers in order to route calls to the nearest cellular towers, but they are not required to share that information with other networks or foreign governments.

Carriers everywhere must turn over location information and allow eavesdropping of calls when ordered to by government officials in whatever country they are operating in. But the techniques discovered by Nohl and Engel offer the possibility of much broader collection of caller locations and conversations, by anyone with access to SS7 and the required technical skills to send the appropriate queries.

“I doubt we are the first ones in the world who realize how open the SS7 network is,” Engel said.

Secretly eavesdropping on calls and texts would violate laws in many countries, including the United States, except when done with explicit court or other government authorization. Such restrictions likely do little to deter criminals or foreign spies, say surveillance experts, who say that embassies based in Washington likely collect cellular signals.

The researchers also found that it was possible to use SS7 to learn the phone numbers of people whose cellular signals are collected using surveillance devices. The calls transmit a temporary identification number which, by sending SS7 queries, can lead to the discovery of the phone number. That allows location tracking within a certain area, such as near government buildings.

The German senator who cooperated in Nohl’s demonstration of the technology, Thomas Jarzombek of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, said that while many in that nation have been deeply angered by revelations about NSA spying, few are surprised that such intrusions are possible.

“After all the NSA and Snowden things we’ve heard, I guess nobody believes it’s possible to have a truly private conversation on a mobile phone,” he said. “When I really need a confidential conversation, I use a fixed-line” phone.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rise of the car-sharing apps poses threat to auto sector

Rise of the car-sharing apps poses threat to auto sector

By Atul Prakash and Sudip Kar-Gupta
6 hours ago

LONDON (Reuters) - The humble smartphone could throw a spanner in the works of the car sector's post-crisis turnaround, with the big manufacturers facing a long-term threat from apps that make it easier and cheaper to share or hire vehicles than to buy them.

Investor sentiment is on a knife edge. Car sales are back in recovery mode in most major European markets, yet the fragility of the turnaround could yet be exposed by another economic slowdown while investors have flagged the potential danger posed by web-based services further down the road.

The rise of the likes of car hire app Zipcar and car-pooling rival BlaBlaCar are expected to present new challenges to mass-market carmakers such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Renault and Volkswagen while presenting fresh opportunities for existing rental networks.

Online taxi business Uber is another seeking a slice of the market with its UberPop operation, which links private drivers to passengers, though the U.S. company faces legal challenges in countries including France and Germany.

Cathie Wood, chief executive of ARK Investment Management, is among the growing band of investment professionals expecting a significant behavioral shift among the car-buying public.

"Thanks to web-enabled services like Zipcar, Uber and Lyft, household vehicles are beginning to feel like the stranded assets they are: high in cost but utilized on average only 4 percent of the time in a 24-hour day," she said.

The realization of such by consumers could eventually prove costly for carmakers. Specialist automotive consulting house AlixPartners says that every vehicle in a car-sharing network represents about 32 scrapped decisions to buy.

HEAVY BACKING

ARK Investment Management, meanwhile, says that a rise in car-sharing to 5 percent of all journeys could almost halve U.S. auto sales.

At this early stage, the projections remain a little nebulous and like-for-like comparisons between auto sales and car-share figures are particularly difficult. But it is clear a trend is gathering momentum and there appears to be no shortage of backers keen to tap the austerity zeitgeist.

French billionaire Vincent Bollore unveiled plans to park 3,000 electric cars on London’s streets by 2016 as part of a car-sharing project announced in March. The Bollore group, which also operates car clubs in the French cities of Lyon and Bordeaux, said it would invest 100 million pounds ($157 million) on the UK initiative.

At a global level, the trend has the potential to slow automakers’ annual revenue growth to less than 2.5 percent from 3 percent between 2014 and 2020, according to Yasmina Barin, analyst at Swiss bank and fund management group SYZ.

The initial outlay for a vehicle and running costs that have soared for young drivers because of elevated insurance premiums are another factor in the growth of car-sharing or rental apps.

Uber’s latest funding round valued the company at $40 billion, broadly equivalent to the combined market capitalization of Peugeot, Fiat Chrysler and Volvo.

Gary Paulin, head of brokerage firm Aviate Global, said the trend would also benefit car hire companies such as Avis Budget Group and Hertz but could be more challenging for the traditional carmakers.

"The big listed auto makers will need to adapt," he said.

The market's potential has certainly not been lost on Avis, which runs the Zipcar scheme that says it has more than 870,000 members in various locations around the world and in October launched operations in Madrid.

Hertz, meanwhile, has expanded its 24/7 car rental service to Europe and expects the number of vehicles included in the service to rise to about 500,000 by 2016, from 35,000 today.

ON THE BANDWAGON

Among the manufacturers, some have been quicker to respond than others.

BMW became the latest entrant in London with this month's launch of its DriveNow car-sharing service in partnership with rental firm Sixt. The scheme is already up and running in the United States, Austria and Germany.

Volkswagen's Quicar is present in Hanover, while Daimler's car2go operates in cities including Rome and Berlin, running 12,500 cars for a million customers.

SYZ analyst Barin believes that carmakers could still cope with the car-sharing phenomenon because the smaller cars used in such schemes might have to be replaced quickly and manufacturers could focus on producing such vehicles.

Yet for all their efforts to limit sales erosion, the manufacturers are likely to be left competing in a shrinking overall car market as a new breed of driver emerges.

"I thought about buying a car," 28-year-old London-based PR executive Claire Rumbellow said, "but decided it would be cheaper and more practical to use a car-sharing scheme because I use a car only once a week at most.

($1 = 0.6389 pounds)

(Editing by Lionel Laurent and David Goodman)


IRS warns of possible shutdown

IRS warns of possible shutdown

By Rachael Bade 12/18/14 3:30 PM EST

The IRS is considering its own temporary shutdown due to recent budget cuts enacted by Congress, its chief said Thursday.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said furloughs — forced unpaid days off for employees as part of an IRS closure — is one idea reluctantly being tossed about to save money, though they are hoping they will not have to go there.

“There is no way we can say right now that that won’t happen,” Koskinen told reporters at a press conference on the upcoming tax season. “Again, I would stress that would be the last option.”

He said a one-day closure would save an estimated $29 million.

The news comes a day after Koskinen warned IRS employees that overtime would be suspended and a hiring freeze enacted.

Koskinen took over the agency after it faced big criticism following the controversy over added scrutiny given to tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status. Republicans, never a fan of the IRS, have sought to cut its budget further ever since.

In the recent budget deal, Congress cut the IRS budget by $ 346 million to $10.9 billion, making it nearly a billion down from several years back.

The agency was one of the only agencies that was reduced — despite the storm of a tax season looming on the horizon. The IRS will be implementing ObamaCare tax credits and penalties for the first time, among other new responsibilities.

Koskinen also said more tough news would likely follow as IRS leadership negotiates with the National Treasury Employees Union, particularly because personnel costs comprise about 75 percent of the IRS costs.

Koskinen said the IRS budget reductions are actually another $200 million more than what Congress cut because they had to give employee pay raises.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ObamaCare fines loom for uninsured

ObamaCare fines loom for uninsured

By Elise Viebeck - 12/17/14 06:00 AM EST

People without insurance are running out of time to avoid the hefty ObamaCare penalties that the IRS will be handing down in 2016.

Consumers face a Feb. 15, 2015, deadline to buy insurance, after which those without coverage could be hit with fines of $325 per adult or 2 percent of family income, whichever is higher.

Uninsured people looking to escape the penalties are turning to the exchanges before they close, while insurance companies and tax preparers are seizing on the looming tax hit as a business opportunity.

One recent mass mailer from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield obtained by The Hill warned potential customers in the Washington, D.C., region that going without health insurance coverage would come with a steep cost.
   
“When you don’t have health insurance ... you put your financial security at risk,” the mailer states. “That’s because under the new Affordable Care Act legislation, millions of Americans will have to pay an increased penalty tax of at least 2 percent of their income in 2015 if they go uninsured.”

The “good news,” the letter said, is that CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has “solutions” to help people avoid the penalty, including coverage that is “compatible with financial assistance or free money from the government that will help qualifying individuals pay for insurance.”

The company declined to comment on the mailer.

The message is part of a shift in focus for the health insurance industry as ObamaCare continues a relatively smooth second year of enrollment.

Last fall, issuers were hesitant to mention the mandate as technical glitches plagued HealthCare.gov and stopped some consumers from enrolling.

The penalties for going without health insurance were also more modest, with uninsured people due to pay $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income this tax season. Under the second-year enrollment rules, families that forgo insurance could end up owing $1,000 or more.

Tax preparation companies are touting their expertise in handling the IRS’s ObamaCare rules as they gear up for a new filing season.

Part of the pitch is helping consumers avoid the mandate through an exemption if they are eligible.

A variety of hardship qualifications makes this route possible for many people, including those who experienced the death of a close relative, had their previous health plan canceled or saw an increase in necessary expenses due to caring for an aging family member.

“There are a lot of people who will qualify for an exemption,” said Avalere Health CEO Dan Mendelson. “If a company can save someone the 2 percent fine on $50,000 of income, that is significant.”

Firms are also offering to help current enrollees understand how changes in income can affect their tax credits to buy coverage. In some cases, they can also help the uninsured select health plans.

In promotional materials, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service say they can provide consumers relief, arguing that healthcare reform is making tax planning more difficult.

“The ACA [Affordable Care Act] has changed the landscape of both healthcare and tax,” H&R Block states online, inviting consumers to calculate their mandate penalty or receive a “tax impact analysis” when they become a client.

Jackson Hewitt urges consumers to stop by one of its locations, promising that their employees “work harder to keep up with the latest tax law changes to protect you from possible penalties — not everyone else does.”

The marketing around the healthcare law is taking flight at a time when surveys show the public remains deeply confused about the mandate.

Almost half of U.S. adults are unaware they must report their health insurance status on their 2014 tax returns, according to a TurboTax survey released earlier this month.

And while about three in five uninsured people know the law penalizes people without coverage, nearly 90 percent do not realize the 2014 deadline has already passed.

As a result, experts are urging insurers and the federal government to do more to emphasize the mandate this enrollment period.

Mendelson said the insurance industry is talking about the penalties more than last year, though the Obama administration has not yet adopted that approach.

“You have to remember that most people will sign up for this benefit in the very last weeks before they have to, so you wouldn’t want to message negatively until the end,” he said. “They have a choice about whether to motivate by fear or by benefit. I think the fear might come late.”

Anne Filipic, president of the campaign-style group Enroll America, said the mandate is coming up more frequently this year.

“We will always lead our conversations with the great benefits that are available to consumers,” Filipic said in a joint interview with The Hill and The Wall Street Journal last month.

“As for the fine, that is something that we will communicate to consumers about as well. It’s about delivering the facts.”



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How computers will replace your doctor

How computers will replace your doctor

And open the door to a new boom in the nursing industry

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | December 15, 2014   

You've probably read some widespread sillinesses about how technology is moving us toward a world split between "high-skill" and "low-skill" jobs. Worriers claim that people with high-skill jobs will gobble up all of the economic pie, and those with low-skill jobs will be left with mere crumbs. This notion was perhaps best exemplified by economist Tyler Cowen's book Average is Over.

This is nonsense. Because high-skill jobs are in peril, too. And sometimes, their death will make way for a raft of new "low-skill" jobs.

For example, look at the future of the general practitioner of medicine. This is considered the epitome of the high-skilled, secure, remunerative job. Four years of college! Four years of medical school! Internship! Residency! Government-protected cartel membership!

And yet, this profession is going the way of the dodo bird.

To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.

Then you need to look at companies like Theranos, which allow you to get a blood test cheaply and easily at Walgreens, and get more information about your health than you'd get in a typical doctor's visit.

Then look at a company like Sherpaa, whose mobile app provides you diagnoses, helps you get your prescriptions filled, refers you to specialists, and so on. Right now, Sherpaa works with doctors. But there's no reason to think it couldn't eventually work with software (and in the meantime, work with cheaper Indian doctors rather than morbidly expensive American doctors).

But, you say, we won't be able to get rid of the human general practitioner absolutely. People will still need human judgment, and the human touch.

You are right — absolutely right. But the human we need is someone with training closer to a nurse's than a doctor's, and augmented by the right software, would be both cheaper and more effective than a doctor. You might pay a monthly subscription to be able to treat this person as your family "doctor" — although most of your interaction would be with software via an app. They'd be better than a doctor, too — trained in general wellness and prevention, and being able to refer you to specialists if need be.

What room is there left for generalist doctors in that scenario? None. They're the ones who the internet will replace; and it is nurses and other "low-skilled" health workers who will do best out of this shift. And most importantly, it will be great for patients.