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AI Superstar Andrew Ng Is Democratizing Deep Learning With A New Online Course

The founder of Google Brain and former head of Baidu’s AI efforts wants to train a giant new workforce to help make “AI the new electricity.”

AI Superstar Andrew Ng Is Democratizing Deep Learning With A New Online Course
Andrew Ng [Photo: Flickr user Dawn Endico]

Artificial intelligence could be as important to transforming the economy as electricity was 100 years ago. But for that to happen, the world will need a huge new workforce of people trained in using AI.

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That’s the vision of Andrew Ng, a founder of the Google Brain deep learning project, and former head of AI at Baidu–a position he left in March–who is today announcing a set of five interconnected online courses on the subject. Participants in the “Deep Learning Specialization,” available only through Coursera, will be steeped in neural networks, backpropagation, convolutional networks, recurrent networks, computer vision, natural language processing, and more. They’ll get hands-on experience using the technology in healthcare, visual object recognition, music generation, language understanding, and other applications.

“Today, if you want to learn deep learning, there are lots of people searching online, reading [dozens of] research papers, reading blog posts, and watching YouTube videos,” Ng tells Fast Company. “I admire that, but I want to give people that want to break into AI a clear path of how to get there.”

Today, the major breakthroughs in the field are coming from the world’s largest tech companies, which have in-house AI departments and are investing significantly in the field. As Ng sees it, getting to an AI-powered economy is going to take the work of much more than any one, or even several companies. It’s going to take huge numbers of newly trained experts.

“I hope we can build an AI-powered future that provides everyone affordable healthcare, accessible education, inexpensive and convenient transportation, and a chance for meaningful work for every man and woman,” Ng says in his announcement, which is the first from his newly created company, deeplearning.ai. “An AI-powered future that improves every person’s life.”

Ng is aware that many people are still confused by AI, often getting bogged down in the different subspecialties, and lingo that can easily be misused.

That’s led to popular projects like Andreessen Horowitz partner Frank Chen’s AI primers, which are 45-minute-long videos taking viewers through the basics of artificial intelligence.

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For his part, Ng said he’s confident that the course can help “clear up a lot of that [confusing] terminology.”

On the question of whether AI poses a danger to humanity, Ng is confident that the beneficial outcomes will become clearer as the technology progresses.

“There seems to be a negative correlation,” Ng says, “between how much someone knows AI and how afraid they are of it.” He is effectively taking Mark Zuckerberg’s side in his recent online spat with Elon Musk.

Ng has been in the field long enough to know. In 2012, he founded Coursera along with fellow Stanford computer science professor Daphne Koller. It offers a wide-ranging set of online classes geared toward giving anyone the ability to learn new technical specialties from top-tier educators without having to go to a major university. One of the first classes was in machine learning, and in the subsequent five years, Ng says, more than 1.5 million people have taken the course.

Ng’s new curriculum was built with the original Coursera machine learning course in mind. He had seen how graduates had done things like build a machine learning-powered coffee roaster, or helped a university figure out how to predict which students were most at risk of dropping out.

“The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is building an AI-powered society,” Ng says. Obviously, he wants a whole lot of people to come along for the ride with him.

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And in case you are wondering, yes, the deep learning course will also help students understand how to identify cats in photos.

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.

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