Stanford has been offering portions of its robotics coursework online for a few years now, but professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig are kicking things up a notch (okay, lots of notches) with next semester's CS221: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. For the first time, you can take this course, along with several hundred Stanford undergrads, without having to fill out an application, pay tuition, or live in a dorm.
This is more than just downloading materials and following along with a live stream; you're actually going to have to do all the same work as the Stanford students. There's a book you'll need to get. There will be at least 10 hours per week of studying, along with weekly graded homework assignments. The professors will be available to answer your questions. You can look forward to a midterm exam and final exam. If you survive, you'll get a certificate of completion from the instructors, along with a final grade that you can compare to the grades of all those supersmart kids at Stanford.
You won't technically earn credits for the course unless you're a Stanford student, but for all practical purposes, you'll be getting the exact same knowledge and experience -- transmitted directly to you by none other than two living Jedis of modern AI. Thrun, director of the Stanford AI Lab, led the team that won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, and, more recently, he helped develop the Google self-driving car. Norvig, a former scientist at Sun and NASA, is now director of research at Google and co-author of the leading textbook on AI.
Here's how it will all work: Anyone can sign up for the course online. It starts on October 2nd and lasts 10 weeks. Each 75 minute lecture (there are two per week) gets videotaped and chopped up into 15 minute chunks that you can stream whenever you want, and homework, quizzes, and exams are all digitized and completed over the internet. Professor Thrun gave us a few more details:
Grading will be automated. But we are recording video specifically to help students who got the answers wrong. We will use the exact same questions for everyone, including the Stanford students. In this way we can actually compare how well everyone is doing.
We will use something akin to Google Moderator to make sure Peter and I answer the most pressing questions. Our hypothesis is that even in a class of 10,000, there will only be a fixed number of really interesting questions (like 15 per week). There exist tools to find them.
As of yesterday, which is only the third day that the course has been available, over 10,000 students are already signed up, and since enrollment is open until September 10th, it's entirely possible that a couple hundred thousand people could end up taking this course. Sounds daunting, but professor Thrun is optimistic about the whole thing:
I am very excited. Teaching many students online has always been my dream. This quarter I get to affect more students than in my entire career before. And yes, we are already beyond my expectations, just 3 days in.
You can sign up for yourself at the link below, and keep up to date through the class Twitter feed here.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.