A free online course being offered by Stanford University this fall has drawn more than 58,000 people from around the world—a total roughly four times the size of the school’s entire student body, the New York Times reports.
The class on artificial intelligence is one of three being offered by Stanford’s computer science department and will be taught by two leading AI experts, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig.
Thrun led an effort at Stanford to build a robotic car that drove 132 miles over unpaved roads in a California desert. Lately, he has spearheaded a Google project to develop self-driving cars, many of which have already been tested successfully on American roads.
Norvig is Google's director of research and a former NASA scientist. He has also written a widely read textbook on artificial intelligence.
The online students will not get grades or credit for participation, but they will be ranked in comparison to their online classmates.
Thurn explained that the course was part of an effort to increase the accessibility of once cost-prohibitive higher-education. “The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” he told the Times.
The scientists said they were inspired to create the class by Salman Khan, an engineer who set of a nonprofit organization that posted instructional videos on YouTube for students around the world. (Read Slate's recent profile of Khan.) “The idea that you could put up open content at all was risky 10 years ago, and we decided to be very conservative,” Thurn said. “Now the question is, 'How do you move into something that is more interactive and collaborative?' And we will see lots and lots of models over the next four or five years.”