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This week on TechRepublic’s Business Technology Weekly podcast, hosts Dan Patterson, Bill Detwiler, and Amy Talbot discuss VR and wingsuit flying, advances in digital ranching, and how the PayPal Mafia continues to be a major influence in Silicon Valley.


  • Why free university 42 breaks all the rules for educating engineers and is coming to the US | Jason Hiner A new kind of school for software developers is opening in the San Francisco Bay area this fall. A French university called École 42, or 42 for short, has no tuition, teachers, syllabi, curricula, or books. Instead, students get thrown into the deep end on projects that operate at the pace of tech startups. Two French men, a computer scientist and a billionaire entrepreneur, founded 42 based on two ideas: that traditional university programs can’t keep up with the pace of IT and that college is too expensive. Admission is super competitive — the school has had over 80,000 applicants and only admitted 1,000. One of the founders said the most important metric for success will be how many students create companies and the overall value of those companies. And in just three years, students have started 70 companies worth 8 million euros. The long-term sustainability of the tuition-free model, and the school’s success in the US, is still uncertain, but applications for the incoming class of 2016 are open now.
  • Sail: How daredevil Jeb Corliss uses wearable tech to fly like a bird | Dan Patterson Last week wingsuit pilot and daredevil Jeb Corliss jumped out of an airplane, flew over a mile, and hit a tiny paper target above the Great Wall of China. The entire event was filmed and streamed live, with over a half dozen GoPro cameras. Millions of people in China watched the risky stunt in real-time. The flight was also recorded using state-of-the-art VR cameras that allowed viewers to experience the jump and entire flight from Corliss’ point of view. The BASE jumper also used VR to train for the event. He used a special device to project terrain in the air and display weather conditions in a heads-up-display. Right after his Great Wall flight Jeb spoke with TechRepublic about how VR and other wearable technologies are making competitive wingsuit flying less risky.
  • Forget the plow: Robots and facial recognition for cows will be essential tools on the digital farm | Teena Maddox Digitized farms are the wave of the future, with robots and facial recognition software for cows as essential as tractors and plows. A co-founder of Cainthus, a company that’s digitizing agricultural practices, says using facial recognition software to count a herd, or signal when a cow is sick or injured or not eating, is a way to keep cows happier and more productive. This is because cows think of people as predators and don’t really want us checking up on them. When cows are unhappy, they eat less and produce less milk. The cow facial recognition software is in the beta stage and will be available on the market in August or September this year. It’s targeted for dairies with 2,000 or more cows, and the 4K camera can identify any cow by variations in its coat. Don’t expect wearables to be part of the farm digitization movement, though. According to Cainthus’ co-founder, “Cows don’t really like wearing them and they don’t like having things shoved down their ears.”
  • We can’t prevent AI from changing the world but we can stop robots cooking cats | Nick Heath Progress in artificial intelligence is accelerating rapidly. “A year ago the leading expert on computer Go programming predicted it would take another decade to beat the world champion,” said UC Berkeley computer science professor Stuart Russell, at the Strata + Hadoop World conference in London. “There was a really rapid progression, from programs that couldn’t even challenge a professional Go player about two years ago to where they’ve now beaten a world champion.” AI technology is already being used to build smart systems that transcend the capabilities of earlier software. Russell gave the example of researchers at UC Berkeley using probabilistic programming to construct an AI system that helps spot clandestine nuclear explosions. The software will serve as the official monitoring system for enforcing the United Nation’s global Nuclear Test Ban treaty. But what happens when AI makes a mistake, like cooking your cat for dinner? We need to equip AI with a common sense understanding of human values. To this end, he suggests the only absolute objective of autonomous robots should be maximising the values of humans as a species.
  • Google Maps meets AI: Carnegie Mellon’s Terrapattern can find and map every pool in New York City | Hope Reese A group of students and professors at Carnegie Mellon recently unveiled an AI tool that scans satellite photos and matches the images to similar-looking locations in the nearby geographic area. It works like this: you click part of a Google map, and the program spits out every other similar-looking geographic area in the region, then places the pins on a map. One use for the tool is route planning. For example, planning a route that keeps you near the coast or keeps you away from bridges. It could also be useful to researchers. Say you click on a swimming pool. The tool could tell you not only the nearest pool, but how many pools there are in a certain city. And what part of town they’re in. And, perhaps, how run-down they look. This kind of information could be relevant to all kinds of people and businesses. Sociologists. People doing inventory. Governments researching poverty or economics of a location. Developers who are planning new apartment complexes or urban infrastructure. Currently, this tool is available for New York City, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, but the list of cities could expand as new uses are identified.

Cover Story:

  • How the ‘PayPal Mafia’ redefined success in Silicon Valley | Conner Forrest PayPal’s founder Peter Thiel has been in the news a lot this spring, but dozens of early PayPal employees became extremely successful. The so-called ‘PayPal Mafia’ played a major role in revitalizing the tech industry in Silicon Valley, and helped found Tesla, LinkedIn, Palantir, SpaceX, Yelp, YouTube, and Yanner. Their success was more than just luck.

Produced by Amy Talbot, Bill Detwiler, Jason Hiner, and Dan Patterson.

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