Day 3 was the students’ earliest start yet, and a test of their best last-minute-breakfast tricks before running to the waiting buses for a full day in Paris. Luckily the exciting programme planned was enough to coax them out of bed without too much problem: a visit to perhaps the two single biggest influences on the students’ lives today, Facebook and Google.
Those at Google were greeted warmly by, who else, an INSEAD alumna, who introduced some of the history, core values and future of Google and their parent Alphabet. Google’s fairytale began in a garage and moved through to the internet boom and on into the future of its sustainability and likely direction, examining the interaction of technology with human lives at every level. The visitors were then shown one of Google’s lesser-known projects at its Cultural Institute. Here the tech giant weighs in to create the largest online collection of art, cultural aretfacts and museum pieces in existence, to keep an archive for generations to come accessible from anywhere in the world. Demonstrations showed the power of the platform to hold ultra-high resolution images of huge frescoes, zoomable to discover even the smallest cracks in the paintwork.
The Facebook teams were treated to three lectures from its small Paris office. The first covered the firm’s aspirations away from its traditional platform and advertising revenue, in connecting the billions of people not yet online; and in developing Virtual and Augmented Reality products; and touched on its culture and methodologies for innovation. A computer scientist from the elite Paris FAIR [Facebook AI Research] team then delivered a fascinating assessment of the state of Artificial Intelligence today, and of the triumphs and challenges of modern AI. After seeing even this most cutting-edge of AI environments defeated by the prospect of recognising a vegetarian pizza or understand physics like a two-year-old, the crowd was reassured that the Terminator takeover was at least a few years off, but the exploration of Convolutional Neural Networks satisfied even the techiest among them. Impressed and in awe by the constant drive to innovate and inspire, the students nonetheless were able to cast a critical eye on the social and political issues surrounding Facebook’s continuous growth in influence, with the third speaker a key Public Policy lobbyist for the firm. Questions on cyberbullying, terrorism, security, privacy, fake news and net neutrality (as well as a personal enquiry about a forgotten password!) challenged and stimulated discussion every bit as well as a field of professional journalists. Perhaps, even, these future leaders of the Social generation were better placed to pursue the big questions than most in the fast-moving world of tech.
The afternoon brought a change of pace, and an opportunity for the students to take tours of Pairs from its many colourful sides: from gruesome tales of the underbelly of Parisian history to a greatest hits of major landmarks. Those that won the much-contested Paris tour lottery were treated to the Sweet side of Paris Gourmet gastronomy, as lucky counsellor Mortiz recalls:
“At the start of the tour we were greeted with a fresh chouquette by our guide, Amy. After crossing the Seine and hearing about Notre Dame our first stop was the Le Parisienne Bakery, where we picked up 2 of Paris’ best baguettes (a hotly contested prize offering the chance to supply the Elysée Palace!). Baguettes in hand, we were led to a small cheese shop, where we had the opportunity to try three very different cheeses, where the Mimolette stood out for its unique orange color and intense flavour which wasn’t met by too much enthusiasm in the group. This concluded the (short) savoury part of our tour, as we quickly moved on to the sweets. We started off with some delicious Choux de la crème, a treat that is traditionally served at French Weddings. Continuing our hunt for sugar we stopped at famous chocolatier Patrick Roger where we were served hazelnut Pralines and Basil-Lime Ganaches, an unique speciality not to everyone’s taste! At this point everyone was starting to feel quite full, but our next stop really pushed us over the edge. The Gateau Breton (a butter tart from Bretagne) that we were offered at a bakery was buttery and sweet, but unfortunately a little too much for most of us at this point of the tour. Our last stop before taking the bus to the Eiffel Tower was at another chocolatier, which was far more rustic than the previous one. Taking into account that we were all stuffed, we opted to only try some juice from the cocoa fruit, which in France is apparently unique to this one location! Overall it was a fantastic tour with a lot of different tasting experiences, all while still taking in some of Paris’ main sites.”
Tired, sticky, but altogether thrilled, the students returned to campus. Not to be defeated, many worked late into the evening with their teams, as the first few clues trickled through about the beginning of the first day of the infamous YFCD simulation to follow.
~ Benjamin Lavelle, with thanks to Moritz Frieling