Benjamin Englard, who has completed one year of study toward a degree in computer science at Michigan, has been selected as a 2014 Thiel Fellow. Established by tech investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, the Fellowship provides promising young entrepreneurs with two years of funding to pursue an innovative or scientific project, and with mentorship from the Foundation’s network of tech entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, thought leaders, futurists, and innovators in order to build a product offering and company around that project.
At the time he applied for the fellowship, Englard was developing natural language processing algorithms to detect personality traits based on social media usage, and an API for use of that data in recommendation engines, advertising systems, search engines, and in user interface design.
He is now pursuing two larger and more challenging projects. The first is an education technology project that attempts to build virtual classrooms to assist teachers in lesson planning. This is a current manifestation of his interest in applying artificial intelligence to problems in education.
His second project makes use of natural language processing, computer vision, and deep learning to build systems that can transform natural language input into visual media. This may also involve some computational topology to ensure that, say, all of a cat's appendages are in the right places. Built alongside these foundational technologies will be a suite of creative tools for individuals and organizations, allowing for the elimination of manual labor in the creation of pictures, videos, and animations.
Because the Thiel Fellowship is structured as a full-time alternative traditional education, Englard has withdrawn to pursue his entrepreneurial venture. "I'm extremely excited to be able to pursue my ideas without being constrained by classes," he says. He has not ruled out returning to Michigan after the two-year Thiel program, but for now his focus is 100 percent on his entrepreneurial projects.
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Posted: June 11, 2014