Step Aside Lucy; It’s Ardi Time

first_imgA new fossil human ancestor has taken center stage.  Those who love Lucy, the australopithecine made famous by Donald Johanson (and numerous TV specials), are in for a surprise.  Lucy is a has been.  Her replacement is not Desi Arnaz, but is designated Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus – the new leading lady in the family tree.  Actually, she has been around for years since her discovery in Ethiopia in 1992.  It has taken Tim White and crew 15 years to piece together the bones that were in extremely bad condition.  But now, Ardi has made her debut and is stealing the limelight.    The special issue of Science published this week had no less than 16 articles on this one fossil – an exceptional amount of coverage for any topic.  In the lead Editorial,1 Bruce Alberts proclaimed, “Darwin was certainly right” to predict that science would solve the mystery of human origins.  Popular science reporters, by habit, are going ape with “Read all about it!” headlines announcing the latest saga of human evolution.2  But wait – wasn’t Lucy the last word back in the 1970s?    A completely new paradigm is emerging alongside the unveiling of Ardi.  The scoop is this: Lucy had nothing to do with our family tree after all.  She and her kinds were on a separate branch that did not lead to us.  In fact, all chimpanzees and great apes are now on different branches.  There goes a lot of storytelling.  The century and a half since Darwin commonly portrayed humans as higher up the family tree on a continuous lineage with chimpanzees our nearest living relatives.  Not any more.  Now we are to see all the great apes as highly-evolved (“derived”) mammals on separate branches from a more distant common ancestor that was probably more like small monkeys.  Getting tossed out with the housecleaning are some other popular notions: that humans came down out of the trees to hunt in the savannah (Ardi appears to have inhabited a woodland), and that hominids remained on the ground (it appears Ardi still had the feet for tree grasping).    Most important, the new paradigm changes the mechanism of evolution itself.  In classical neo-Darwinism, traits evolve in a stepwise fashion through mutations and natural selection (the “referential model”).  Some evolutionists are now moving toward a more nuanced view called “adaptive suites.”  These are groups of traits that emerge together and evolve together as a package.  C. Owen Lovejoy (Kent State U) explained this idea in his Science article “Reexamining Human Origins in Light of Ardipithecus ramidus.”3  (Since reporting on all 16 articles about Ardi would be excessive, we will focus on this one article that surveys the broad issues.)  Before proposing his adaptive suite model, Lovejoy described how wrong all his predecessors had been:An essential goal of human evolutionary studies is to account for human uniqueness, most notably our bipedality, marked demographic success, unusual reproductive physiology, and unparalleled cerebral and technological abilities.  During the past several decades, it has been routinely argued that these hominid characters have evolved by simple modifications of homologs shared with our nearest living relatives, the chimpanzee and bonobo.  This method is termed referential modeling.  A central tenet has been the presumption (sometimes clearly stated but more often simply sub rosa) that Gorilla and Pan are so unusual and so similar to each other that they cannot have evolved in parallel; therefore, the earliest hominids must have also resembled these African apes.  Without a true early hominid fossil record, the de facto null hypothesis has been that Australopithecus was largely a bipedal manifestation of an African ape (especially the chimpanzee).  Such proxy-based scenarios have been elevated to common wisdom by genomic comparisons, progressively establishing the phylogenetic relationships of Gorilla, Pan, and Homo.Out with the old referential model, in with the new adaptive suites model:An alternative to referential modeling is the adaptive suite, an extrapolation from optimization theory.  Adaptive suites are semiformal, largely inductive algorithms that causally interrelate fundamental characters that may have contributed to an organism’s total adaptive pattern.  One for the horned lizard (Phyrnosoma platyrhinos) of the southwestern U.S. serves as an excellent example (Fig. 1).  For this species, the interrelation between a dietary concentration on ants and its impact on body form imply, at first counterintuitively, that elevation of clutch size and intensification of “r” strategy (maximize the number of offspring by minimizing paternal care) are the ultimate consequences of this specialization.So when we look at upright human bodies with all their specializations, we are to see them as suites of adaptations that evolved together out of some initial lifestyle change.  In the case of the horned lizard, some normal-looking lizard ancestor took on a taste for ants.  That made it consume more of its new prey because of the large amounts of chitin that had to be digested.  This, in turn, changed its body plan and made it more fat and sluggish.  Now it had to evolve armor (spines and horns) and camouflage for protection from predators.  So from one lifestyle change, a whole suite of adaptations evolved together.    What, then, was the stimulus that made some unknown monkey begin its path to humanity?  Lovejoy looked at Ardi for clues.  The discoverers claim three traits stand out: (1) less sexual dimorphism (body size differences between males and females), although this is speculative; (2) reduced canine teeth; and (3) evidence Ardi walked upright (though this is disputed).  To him, this means the common ancestor changed its reproductive habits.  Sparing our readers the lurid details Lovejoy discussed about genitalia shapes and sizes, promiscuous behaviors and Darwinian concepts like “sperm competition” and “ovulatory crypsis”) he deduced that Ardipithecus had a suite of adaptations that would emerge in full flower in the human race – monogamy, straight teeth and upright stance.  Maybe it began as a sex-for-food deal.  This required explaining away some of the peculiar characteristics of male genitalia, but whatever: the adaptive suite is now the preferred explanatory model.  Along with the human adaptive suite came big brains, tool use, fire, language, spear-throwing, food hauling, hugging, and eventually, abstract mathematics and music.    Lovejoy concluded that Lucy was an unfortunate detour in our understanding of where we came from:Even as its fossil record proliferated, however, Australopithecus [Lucy and her friends] continued to provide only an incomplete understanding of hominid origins.  Paradoxically, in light of Ardipithecus, we can now see that Australopithecus was too derived—its locomotion too sophisticated, and its invasion of new habitats too advanced—not to almost entirely obscure earlier hominid evolutionary dynamics.    Now, in light of Ar. ramidus, there are no longer any a priori reasons to suppose that acquisition of our unique reproductive anatomy and behavior are unconnected with other human specializations….    When viewed holistically, as any adaptive suite requires, the early hominid characters that were probably interwoven by selection to eventually generate cognition now seem every bit as biologically ordinary as those that have also affected the evolution of lizards, frogs, voles, monkeys, and chimpanzees.  Comparing ourselves to our closest kin, it is somewhat sobering that the hominid path led to cognition, whereas that leading to Pan, our closest living relatives, did not, despite the near-synonymy of our genomes.By closest living relatives, Lovejoy means close on different branches.  The old picture that they were closer down the same branch.  One notices that Lovejoy still employed the word “selection.”  That’s right; he is not abandoning Darwin.  “As Darwin argued, the ultimate source of any explication of human acumen must be natural selection,” he explained.  “The adaptive suite proposed here provides at least one evolutionary map by which cognition could have emerged without reliance on any special mammalian trait.”  Ostensibly this means that now evolutionists do not have to explain cognition by the sudden emergence by mutation of just one the “neural substrate” (big brain; see 09/24/2009).  Now they can employ the word “emergence” to an interwoven suite of adaptive traits that makes us human.    The popular media are all echoing this line that chimpanzees are no longer on our branch of the family tree.  The image of Lucy’s famous skeleton has been supplanted by artwork from J.H. Matternes showing a hairy, upright female with Mona-Lisa-like cheeky smile.  Surely Johanson is not taking this sitting down, is he?  According to the U.C. Chronicle of Higher Education, he conceded that this fossil is “terribly important for all of our thinking” about human origins (emphasis on terribly), but “will undoubtedly generate widespread debate” in days to come.  The Chronicle added that the debate will include “the question of whether Ardi is actually a human ancestor.”    One point not emphasized in the popular reports is the fragmentary condition of the bones.  Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, writing for Evolution News and Views uncovered statements that the specimen was “crushed nearly to smithereens.”  The substrate was chalky and squished, resembling an “Irish stew” that would turn to dust at the slightest touch.  This included the critical pelvic bones necessary to establish whether the creature walked upright.  Six years ago, Tim White himself had cautioned fellow scientists that geological deformation of fossil fragments can produce misleading impressions of species diversity (03/28/2003).  Now it’s clear he was working on these badly-damaged Ardipithecus fragments at the time he said that (see, for example, 04/19/2006 and especially the 10/29/2002 and 09/23/2004 fights).    In a second article for Evolution News, Luskin commented on the game-changing nature of this find.  Actually, Luskin pointed out, it’s another episode out of an old playbook – claiming that the new find “overturns the prevailing views on human evolution.”    Perceptive readers may also take note of the fact that White dates Ardi at 4.4 million years BP (before present), while Johanson’s Lucy was found not far away and dated at 3.2 million years BP.  Some questions not being asked are (1) which way was evolution going for 1.2 million years between Ardi and Lucy, (2) how much did the landscape change geologically in that time, and (3) is it possible these species were contemporaneous.  Only Biblical creationists seem to be asking the other overlooked question: how can they prove those dates without assuming evolution?  For some creationist responses to Ardipithecus in particular and human evolution in general, see articles 1, 2, and 3 on CMI.1.  Bruce Alberts, “Understanding Human Origins,” Science, 2 October 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5949, p. 17 DOI: 10.1126/science.1182387.2.  A short list of popular reports: National Geographic News, Science Daily, Live Science, PhysOrg and the BBC News.3.  C. Owen Lovejoy, “Reexamining Human Origins in Light of Ardipithecus ramidus.” Science, 2 October 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5949, pp. 74, 74e1-74e8, DOI: 10.1126/science.1175834.OK, so Tim White is getting his 15 minutes of fame (see 04/27/2006).  If you have been following the Early Man stories in CEH for any length of time, you know the rivalries that exist between the fossil hunters.  Every year or so, as if on cue, the news media go berserk with euphoria over the latest human ancestor fossil, essentially declaring EYKIW (everything you know is wrong).  Rewrite the textbooks; all the stuff taught up till now has been overturned and revised by this latest fossil.  There’s the Leakey group, the Haile-Selassie Group, the Johanson group, the Spaniards, the Georgians and others, all competing for the spotlight.  With a successful media blitz comes speaking tours, book deals and fame.  The competition is especially effective when you can give a cute name to your fossil – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Ardi, or Ida.  (Speaking of Ida, that attempt at EYKIW last May flopped badly – see 05/19/2009.  Even the shameless overboard paleoanthropology crowd thought that was a little too shameless and overboard.)    If you enjoy comedy, read through the 271 Early Man stories we have published here over the last 9 years.  You see the playbook played out over and over again.  The latest contender promises that the new find “sheds light on evolution” and is helping us “understand our origins.”  Each time, numerous miracles are required to get humans their cognition and “unparalleled cerebral and technological abilities” (e.g., 03/29/2004).    This time they are trying to forestall criticism with the sheer volume of words being written.  It’s like launching a hundred decoy missiles to get the enemy to waste all their interceptors.  You can go read all those papers if you wish, but there’s no sense in taking any of it seriously, because as we have pointed out repeatedly, it’s self-refuting nonsense to begin with.  If Tim White’s brain is a product of some ancient sex-for-food game played by Ardi’s genes, without her cognitive choice in the matter, then we have no way of knowing that Tim White’s brain is a product of some ancient sex-for-food game played out by Ardi’s genes.  Get it?  It undermines his whole reasoning apparatus.  We can’t believe a word he said.  His scenario crumbles to dust like Ardi’s bones.  If he really wants to reason, if he cares about finding the truth, then he has to abandon Darwinism and become a creationist.  Then he will have the causal resources to employ reason, logic, evidence and rhetoric – not until.    What is most sad about all this is the deception to our young people.  How many of you were taught one of these tales in school?  Maybe it was Java Man (if you are getting into your senior years), or one of Louis Leakey’s National Geographic cover stories (if you are middle-aged), or Orrorin, Kenyanthropus, Toumai, Lucy or any number of other more recent tales.  The artwork is so deceiving.  Tim White cannot possibly know what that creature looked like in the condition those bones were in (don’t forget his statements from 2003).  Artists take the fragments and emphasize some traits and de-emphasize others to communicate the desired message, that this fossil has something to do with our origins.  The hair, the soft tissues, and the facial expressions are all imaginary.  National Geographic has been one of the worst offenders over the years.  The charts these people make up, placing each fossil into an artificial timeline and connecting dots between them, are just as bad.  Don’t trust any of it (e.g., 03/05/2004).   Would you follow one of these blind guides up ten floors of a house of cards so he can show you a steel girder he claims is holding up a ceiling, or a light fixture that is shedding light on a dark closet?  Their superstructure of paper, no matter how elaborate their origami, lacks substance.  What’s more, it sits on quicksand in a windstorm.  Get out of the away.    It is alarming to look at old textbooks and NG mags and see how much revision there has been.  Paleoanthropology is not converging on a progressive, steadily-improving story coming into sharper focus.  It’s stanza after stanza of the EYKIW dirge.  Playing a dirge with a hip-hop rhythm doesn’t help.(Visited 74 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Brand South Africa partners with Umalusi for the 12th (SAAEA) 2018 conference

first_imgTsabeng Nthite – Brand South Africa has partnered with Umalusi to contribute to the improvement of assessment methods and processes in the field of education. Umalusi is currently host to the 12th Southern Africa Association for Educational Assessment (SAAEA) Conference , in the city of Tshwane.Hosted under the theme “Local context in global context: encouraging diversity in assessment” – the conference aims to engage regional academic stakeholders from the African continent on the following focus areas: sustainable assessment practices and standards; innovative assessment opportunities and challenges; diversifying assessment; assessment and the development of critical thinking; as well as the impact of stake holding on effective assessment. Brand South Africa’s GM for Stakeholder Relations – Mpumi Mabuza said: “Assessment is an integral part of instruction in the field of education, as it determines whether or not the goals of education are being met. Assessment affects decisions about grades, placement, advancement, instructional needs, curriculum, and, in some cases, funding. “The ultimate goal, through a series of presentations and panel discussions at the SAAEA Conference is to collaborate on a way forward to solving challenges and identifying opportunities that will further encourage practices and standards in educational assessment.”The partnership is also aligned to South Africa’s National Development Plan which aims to ensure that by 2030 – all South Africans will be enriched by universal early childhood education, high-quality schooling, further education and training that allows them to fulfill their potential, and expanding higher education that accelerates the shift to a knowledge economy.last_img read more

Calcutta settles down for yet another season of football frenzy

first_imgKrishnendu RoyThe long queues at the gates, the full-throated shouts and the fierce arguments at tea shops and coffee houses are all back as Calcutta settles down for yet another season of football frenzy. Also back is its accompanying tension which is exactly what keeps the Bengali ticking during the,Krishnendu RoyThe long queues at the gates, the full-throated shouts and the fierce arguments at tea shops and coffee houses are all back as Calcutta settles down for yet another season of football frenzy. Also back is its accompanying tension which is exactly what keeps the Bengali ticking during the hot and humid Indian summer.On paper, however, nothing has changed, from the fabulous amounts that reportedly changed hands during the transfer period – in no other centre is football such a big money business – to the continued domination of the three big clubs.Yet the 1982 football season promises to be different from the previous ones in at least one major respect. For the first time the senior division league will feature a plethora of new faces who have made it to the top in such large numbers, for perhaps the first time ever in Calcutta’s football history.For years football lovers had been demanding new faces and though the clubs would get hold of youngsters they would invariably get sidetracked by the big names. This year, thanks to the Asian Games, most “stars” are out undergoing rigorous workouts in training camps which means they cannot participate in any home tournament before the Games are over.It is a football season without such names as Bhaskar Ganguli, Prasun Banerjee, Xavier Pius, Shabir Ali, Manash Bhattacharya, Prasanta Banerjee and Compton Dutta whose absence has certainly shorn it of glamour but not of interest as is evident from the crowded stands.advertisementMukherjeeGlamour Boys: The news isn’t so good for the missing star performers. As an official of a leading club said: “Most of the glamour boys thought people would not turn up if they were not playing and often blackmailed us. But now it is evident that it is the attachment to the club which draws supporters to the ground irrespective of which players are being fielded.” And already it has been noticed that the game itself does not suffer if the big names are not around, as was evident when Mohammedan Sporting beat Bata last month 3-0 with an entirely new team.Last year’s league champion, Mohammedan Sporting lost heavily this year on the transfer market and has practically a new side apart from the Iranians. Jamshed Majid and Khabaji, who did not play in the first outing, and Shabir Ali who is attending the Asiad camp. Besides, with most of the big names now in the 28-30 age group it is doubtful whether they can continue playing meaningful football. They were found seriously wanting when pitted against the much younger and faster teams from abroad during the recent Jawaharlal Nehru tournament in Calcutta. Organisers of the game have, ever since, been seriously scouting for new talent. Replacements are needed and the current season may provide them with the right answers.During the current season, however, the older players have little to worry about. Even though they are not playing for their clubs during the senior division league, they continue to be retained and draw their monthly emoluments in addition to the Rs 2,000 a month that the All India Football Federation pays them for attending the national camp.Shankar AdhikaryAnd for most of them, the clubs dole out handsome amounts. It has been reported that East Bengal club, which took a lot of beating last year, has spent around Rs 10 lakh this year to recover its lost prestige. Among those who have signed for the club this year are Indian skipper Bhaskar Ganguli.One of the reasons why the clubs have signed up internationals in spite of the fact that they would be of no help during the league is because prestigious tournaments like DCM, Rovers and Durand will take place after the Asian Games when the restriction on players will cease to exist. Income Tax: The big clubs may also experience difficulties with the Income Tax (IT) authorities as they have been mentioned as sources of income in the it returns filed by some of the stars. This is the first admission by players of being paid for playing.Earlier while everyone knew that the players were being paid, there was no official record simply because the cash changed hands under the table. However, with the big guns in the Income Tax Department having close relations with the authorities of major clubs – a relationship which is mutually beneficial – it is quite likely they will not have to bother much and eyes will continue to be kept shut.advertisementLast season, one of the smaller clubs had tried to get the phony amateur status of the big team players blasted through a court case, but didn’t get very far, so inter-woven are the relationships between the top three.East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, and the Indian Football Association (IFA) the state level apex body which is supposed to keep a close look on the clubs for smooth conduct of the game. The court put the responsibility of finding out whether a club was paying its players or not squarely on the shoulders of the IFA.Meanwhile eyes in Calcutta are rivet-ted on up-and-coming players like Amitabha Mukherjee of Mohun Bagan who had scored the all-important goal for the team at the Federation Cup tournament at Kozhikode earlier this year. Also in the limelight is Krishnendu Roy oi the same team who had played so well for India at the Merdeka tournament but who, for inexplicable reasons, has been kept out of the Asiad camp.For East Bengal the rising players are link-man, Swapan Raut and left-winger, Arun Nath while Mohammedan Sporting, which has been almost without any star attraction this year, has been lucky to get the services of Debashish Mishra, acclaimed as this season’s best midfielder and also the fast right-winger, Shankar Adhikary.These players had either played for smaller clubs previously or had signed up for one of the big three only to spend their afternoons as reserves on the sidelines. This is the first time that they have found an opportunity to display their mettle and appear to have already earned their places as new stars in Calcutta’s soccer world.last_img read more

Disaster Management dept to give satellite phones to district authorities

first_imgKolkata: The state Disaster Management and Civil Defence department has decided to give satellite phones to district authorities, to ensure uninterrupted communication even during natural calamities and other emergency situations.According to a senior official of the state Disaster Management and Civil Defence department, it has often been found that mobile phones lose network connection when there is a natural calamity.In a bid to ensure that inter-district communication and communication with the state government headquarters stay uninterrupted at the time of an emergency, the district authorities will be provided with satellite phones. Also Read – Heavy rain hits traffic, flightsSources said that initially, 16 satellite phones will be distributed among the districts and gradually, connectivity using satellite phones will be established with all the districts.The officials from districts have also been provided with all sorts of training necessary to operate satellite phones. It will ensure uninterrupted connectivity with the districts, even during an emergency.It may be mentioned that the state Disaster Management and Civil Defence department has also planned to set up Quick Response Teams (QRT) for each district, to ensure better help to people during an emergency situation. Also Read – Speeding Jaguar crashes into Merc, 2 B’deshi bystanders killedThe decision to set up QRTs was taken after a District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) came into existence in each district.Civil Defence Volunteers will be part of the QRTs and the number of volunteers in each team will be depending on the number of sub-divisions in the district. There will be around 25 volunteers for each sub-division. This comes at the time when the department has become immensely successful in reducing the number of deaths due to lightning, by introducing a system in which people get alerted at least 45 minutes before lightning strikes an area. It is helping people to reach a safe place in the time they are getting after receiving the alert.last_img read more

Forest dept finds rare birds in abandoned cages traders give officials the

first_imgKolkata: The Wildlife Wing of the state Forest department seized 20 birds of three scheduled species of parakeets from Galif Street on Sunday.No one could be arrested as offenders probably had sensed danger and abandoned the cages full of birds to save themselves. According to sources, acting on a sources information sleuths from Forest department conducted a special raid on Sunday morning at Galif Street. Forest department officials posed as prospected buyers of pets and was taking a round of the pet market for possible catch. After almost an hours, some of them noticed few cages covered with pieces of cloth which were abandoned. Suspecting something fishy, sleuths started keeping strong vigil on the cages. But after waiting for a long time no one came to pick up those cages. Also Read – Rs 13,000 crore investment to provide 2 lakh jobs: MamataLater, forest officials removed the cloth pieces and found three species of birds identified as rose ringed parakeets, alexandrine parakeets and grey headed starling. Immediately, the birds were seized and it was found there are 20 birds from the schedule of forest department regulations which are banned for trade. Later, the birds were taken to the wild life rehabilitation centre in Salt Lake. A case has been lodged. A forest officials said they are continuously trying to inform people not to buy any scheduled birds as it is illegal. The aim is to save and conserve wildlife by awareness of common people. Earlier this month, state Forest department and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) jointly carried out a raid at Galif Street, after the officials got a tip off that several endangered species of birds were being sold by a few persons. A large number of birds were recovered during the raid and nine persons are arrested by the officials of forest department and WCCB.last_img read more

Tech Startups Are Prodding the Dinosaur That Is the Insurance Industry

first_img Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. October 21, 2015 Growing a business sometimes requires thinking outside the box. Here’s a sentence you don’t read every day: Insurance is so hot right now.Entrepreneurs and investors have finally woken up to the opportunity in the insurance industry. At $831.5 million, investment in insurance tech this year is already up nearly 10 times what it was in 2010.The opportunity has been staring entrepreneurs and investors in the face for years. The first insurance companies in the U.S. were started in the 1700s, and that cottage industry has grown into one of the biggest markets and sources of capital in the world. Premiums in the U.S. insurance industry total around $1 trillion, or approximately 7 percent of gross domestic product. On top of that, insurance companies invest nearly $7 trillion in assets.And here’s the kicker about all that insurance money — it’s generated by millions of agents, with lots of paper, in processes that look much the same way they did 30 years ago.Related: Investors Are Poised to Disrupt the Tech-Averse Insurance IndustryIn my previous life as a McKinsey consultant, I advised the top insurance companies on projects that were, at their core, incremental. They were always about increasing the productivity of the agent-based sales force, or improving the efficiency of paper-based claims operations. In other words, what I was doing was putting the dinosaur on a diet and prodding it with a stick. What needed to be done was bring a whole new breed of animal into the insurance game.So I left McKinsey in 2013 to do just that and started a digital consumer insurance company, PolicyGenius. At PolicyGenius, we want to do for consumer insurance what TurboTax did for taxes: Make a complex and intimidating financial task easy enough to do it yourself online.While raising seed capital for my insurance tech company last year, the most common question I got from prospective investors was, “Why is now the right time for tech to disrupt insurance?” The obvious answer for those unfamiliar with the insurance industry is the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010. The law created exactly the kind of macro shakeup that attracts entrepreneurs. Indeed, since 2010, 56 percent of all insurance tech startups are focused on health insurance, either delivering new employer brokerage models (Liazon, Zenefits, Benefitter), new consumer brokerage models (Gravie, Stride Health) or even new health insurance (Oscar). These startups are pushing the brick-and-mortar incumbents to deliver better services and providing much-needed options to consumers.Beyond the Affordable Care Act, there are other forces at work that have opened the floodgates, allowing creative entrepreneurs to reshape the insurance industry more broadly. These are the market disruptions I see:1. The end of an eraAmericans used to rely on their employers for retirement security. After 20 years of service, you’d get a gold watch and a pension to fund your sunset years. Then, in the 1980s, growing pension costs and a legislative change replaced the corporate pension with the 401(k) and gave rise to the modern retail investment and retirement industry.That shift — from employer to consumer responsibility — is exactly what’s about to happen to insurance. Employer-sponsored insurance is the legacy of an IRS ruling after World War II that allowed employers to deduct employee health insurance as a business expense and employees to receive that benefit as nontaxable income. Sixty years later, we have a sprawling and bloated system, where the extra employer layer adds billions of dollars of cost and empowers employers to make intrusive decisions about their employees’ healthcare. Add to that, the cost of health insurance premiums growing at four times inflation and workers changing employers far more often than they did 60 years ago, and you have a system that’s going to break.The cracks are already showing. The number of workers at small and medium-sized companies who get employer-sponsored health insurance has steadily declined since 2000. The CEO of Aetna has called for the creative destruction of healthcare and taking the employer out of the health insurance equation. Startups that can effectively step into that employer insurance void, the same way companies like Fidelity and Schwab stepped into the employer pension void, will enjoy a massive opportunity.Related: 3 Benefits of the Affordable Care Act Every Business Leader Needs to Know About2. A changing workforceIt’s no secret that the workforce is rapidly changing. The average worker changes employers every 4.6 years. And, more disruptively for insurance, more workers are finding themselves outside the typical employer relationship. Spurred by on-demand services like Uber and countless “Uber for X” startups, freelancers and independent contractors are projected to grow from 42 million people to 65 million in the next 5 years.These workers need individual insurance (like health, disability and life) and business insurance (liability and property). Insurance companies, and the traditional insurance agent model, are ill-suited to serve the self-employed and provide them with the advice and products they need to financially protect themselves and their families.Ask 100 freelancers how they navigate the insurance maze and they’ll all say same thing — with tremendous difficulty. Easing that difficulty for them represents a tremendous opportunity.3. An aging sales forceMost insurance in the U.S. is still sold by human agents, same as it’s always been. But it won’t be for long. The average age of an insurance agent in the U.S. is 59, and one-fourth of the industry’s workforce is expected to retire by 2018. In other words, insurance companies are standing on a burning platform. And they’re already starting to feel the heat.For example, life insurance ownership is at a 50-year low, not because the need has changed — in fact there’s a $20 trillion life insurance gap, but because the agent sales channel can’t reach the modern financial consumer. To their credit, insurance companies realize this reality, but the fact of the matter is that they can’t move as fast as startups can. So they’re investing in startups.  Insurance companies have dramatically increased their direct investments in tech startups to the tune of $1.8 billion since 2010. Much of this investment has gone to the first waves of financial technology: lending (Prosper) and wealth management (Learnvest, Betterment). But talk to any insurance company directly investing in startups, and you’ll learn that they’re hammers in search of nails, that is, smart entrepreneurs tackling the fundamental problems in insurance.4. Unmet needFinally, and most importantly for a mission-driven company, there is a tremendous unmet need for insurance in the U.S. According to a recent survey by the Federal Reserve, 47 percent of households couldn’t cover an emergency expense of $400. Insurance is intended to fill in this savings void for unpredictable emergencies. However, too many Americans have low savings and inadequate insurance, which leads to financial disaster. For example, health problems and disability contributed to half of all home foreclosure filings and over 60 percent of all personal bankruptcy filings. It’s not easy or sexy to sell insurance to middle America, but it’s an important problem to solve — and the first company to do it will be huge.These are the tailwinds that made me excited about insurance tech two years ago and which continue to drive my company forward. We recently closed a $5.3 million Series A round, which included the participation of insurance companies’ venture arms, including AXA Strategic Ventures and Transamerica Ventures. We, and our insurance partners, are excited to make insurance the next big thing in tech.Related: The 25 Best Companies for Employee Compensation and Benefits Free Webinar | Sept. 9: The Entrepreneur’s Playbook for Going Global Register Now » 7 min readlast_img read more