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    So I'm Taking a Stanford Artificial Intelligence Class With Like 100,000 Other People

    Written by

    Michael Byrne


    Maybe you are too? Sticking with it? Good, cool. Otherwise, the class is Introduction to Artificial Intelligence and it’s offered by Stanford’s engineering school. It’s free (except the book), online, and the admissions criteria basically consists of having an e-mail address. Which is good: I’m rocking a state college degree with a “B+” average, and through the usual process, I suspect I’m not Stanford material.

    I started this last week, along with a course in machine learning, and I’m already feeling a bit insane. The first round(s) of lectures, quizzes, and homework took about the entire weekend. My Sunday newpaper’s still sitting unwrapped by the couch. So far we’ve mainly been learning about the different sorts of tree-searches. Probably old-hat for a lot you of the programmer sort. Anyhow, I have a feeling that I’m off to a rough start. I work two jobs and generally have a lot of stuff going. I ad to rush a bit. At the very least, this kinda/sorta going back to school should get my time-management lack-of-any-skills-whatsoever in check.

    Stanford’s done this with other classes through its Stanford Engineering Everywhere, but this has to be the biggest profile course it’s offered, a class as a semester-long public event. I wonder if the record labels are watching this bit of market blasphemy: Stanford’s just giving it away! An engineering education will surely lose value if it’s be being given away, even in part, online. I think that’s how the logic goes anyhow. Giving away some music hurts all music; giving away some education hurts all education.

    Except we do give away most education, right? But just compulsory education. Higher ed, even the cruddiest version of it, will still cost you in America, and more and more. A lot of people not in America — like, say, France where you can get a masters degree for 750€ to 3,500€ — think our big-ticket higher education system is pretty silly seeing that having a highly educated population would seem to be a common national goal.

    But maybe things like this Stanford class will catch on more and more, providing education options and, vitally, opportunity. Isn’t one of the promises of the internet democracy? Or an arena for it? And how about not just America, but places where higher ed barely exists, let alone at the quality levels we have in the first-world.

    Here’s a good paragraph from a Mind/Shift post in August:

    Although the three courses [machine learning, AI, and databases] are described as an experiment, the researchers say they expect education to be made more widely accessible via the Internet. [Professor Sebastian Thrun, an AI instructor], is sure that “this will change the world.” And [Professor Andrew Ng, the machine learning instructor], dreams already of the next step: “I personally would love to take the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in computer science and put it on the Web. So that anyone in the world can learn to do all this computing stuff that we do.”


    Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.