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70,000 Students Flock to Free Online Course in Artificial Intelligence

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Credit: Mathieu Thouvenin/Flickr

Stanford University has opened up to the public an introductory artificial intelligence class, taught by two luminaries in the field. Anyone with high-speed Internet, anywhere in the world, can enroll in the online course.

Just don’t expect a lot of face time with the professors. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 70,000 people had signed up to receive registration information for the AI course, which runs from October until December. Participants will be allowed to register in late summer, according to the course Web site.

Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Part of the course’s appeal is surely in the instructors, Sebastian Thrun (right) and Peter Norvig (above left). Thrun is a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford who led the winning team at the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, an autonomous vehicle race traversing 132 miles through the Mojave Desert. He also directs the Google driverless car project, which has turned unmanned vehicles loose on the streets of California. Norvig is a veteran computer scientist who has held top positions at NASA and Sun Microsystems and is now the director of research at Google. He is also the co-author of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, a leading AI textbook. (That textbook is recommended but not required for the online course, but Norvig “is donating all royalties earned from his text to charity,” according to the course Web site.)

The course will feature video lectures, online quizzes, automatically graded homework assignments, and the chance to ask questions via an online aggregator that will route the top-ranked submissions to the instructors.

Thrun and Norvig told The New York Times that they had been inspired by the example of the Khan Academy, a series of video lessons on math, science and finance delivered via YouTube. “The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” Thrun told the Times.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. ufologist 9:56 am 08/17/2011

    I am impressed that they are donating the royalties of their textbook to charity. I was about to sign-up for the course. When the website listed their textbook as required reading (obvious conflict of interest) I was very disappointed and didn’t bother continuing to register. I hope its not too late for me to register…

    Their book can be found here:

    Link to this
  2. 2. ufologist 10:19 am 08/17/2011

    also… enrolement is up to 83,278… 83,279 including me…

    Link to this
  3. 3. Peter Cao 12:12 pm 08/17/2011

    Sebastian Thrun’s boss in Stanford Computer Science department would do anything extreme to cover up Thrun’s crimes; e.g. a distinguished Emeritus Stanford Computer Science Professor, Professor Ed Feigenbaum, started the fashion to crash my gmail and hotmail accounts [Stanford police told me that's crime], and found all of my innocent friends accordingly and mobbed them to deceive me, condemn me, threaten me in mafia manners, which had molested many years of my life without an end.

    I’d ask one question: Would anyone, especially those from Stanford Computer Science Department, be able to step forward at this moment and responsibily say that Sebastian Thrun is innocent in May Zhou’s murder case, and that their plotted murder on me had nothing to do with Sebastian Thrun, as well?

    Don’t anyone of them feel guilty to cover up Thrun’s role in such murder cases, which had taken away an innocent Stanford student’s life and which had seriously endangered my life, by advertising Thrun’s popularity? Is that the way Stanford Computer Sicence Department want to protect one of their criminal professors? Would anyone of them be willing to substitute Thrun to face legal consequences of his crimes?

    Link to this
  4. 4. Peter Cao 12:14 pm 08/17/2011

    Sebastian Thrun mentioned in this article and Google’s Eric Schmidt had involved themselves into crimes which had endangered human lives.

    Investigation from authorities after my tip confirms that it is people on Schmidt and Thrun’s side who’s behind May Zhou’s [] murder case in order to threaten me and to terrorize Stanford. And the power on their side did try to plot a murder on me while I was in California. Before the case could be publicly clarified, neither Thrun nor Schmidt’s name is clear in such plotted murder. So far, they dare not deny such accusations but pretend not seeing while publicly losing their faces.
    for more details please see comments part posters under my name in

    Link to this
  5. 5. Peter Cao 5:31 pm 08/17/2011

    So, someone on Sebastian Thrun’s side (his boss from Stanford Computer Science department?) is trying to boost Thrun’s popularity in scientific world, in order to cover up Thrun of his crimes.

    For more details, please visit

    Link to this
  6. 6. Peter Cao 1:46 pm 08/19/2011

    — I bet protecting human lives supersedes doing business.

    for more details please see [ ]

    Link to this
  7. 7. Peter Cao 10:36 pm 08/21/2011

    The link in the above poster no longer works. Someone must fear my speech to the public.

    Here is a new link with updated statements about this case at [ ]

    and also my argument about May Zhou’s in regard to this one case when someone said the case was officially closed [ ]

    Link to this
  8. 8. Peter Cao 10:39 pm 08/21/2011

    Here is a new link with updated statements about this case at [ ]

    Link to this
  9. 9. istolga 2:13 am 01/14/2012

    Is there a forum to get more deep info about this course?
    Stanford Computer forum is not free. Found Any others?

    Link to this

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