Andrew Ng will help you change the world with AI if you know calculus and Python

The future of learning?
The future of learning?
Image: Coursera
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If the next era of human progress is built using AI, who gets to engineer it? Who will have the coding skills to use the software for creating AI products, or even more importantly, the skills to write that software?

In an attempt to make the answer to those questions “anyone who wants to,” Andrew Ng is releasing a new set of courses teaching deep learning on Coursera, the online learning platform he co-founded in 2012. Coursera was originally set up to offer an online class in machine learning; deep learning is a variety of that, involving exceptionally large datasets. The original machine learning course attracted more than 2 million students, Ng tells MIT Tech Review.

Ng, who rose to notoriety as a Google Brain founder, Baidu chief scientist, and Stanford professor, claims that teaching people how to build AI using deep learning is the most effective way to build an “AI-powered society.” “Just as every new [computer science] graduate now knows how to use the Cloud, every programmer in the future must know how to use AI,” Ng wrote on Medium. “There are millions of ways Deep Learning can be used to improve human life, so society needs millions of you from all around the world to build great AI systems.”

Of course, this isn’t the only way to study deep learning. There’s traditional academia, and other companies like Google have posted free online courses on competing online learning sites.

While Ng’s new course makes it easier to learn deep learning than striking out on your own watching YouTube videos, Ng acknowledges that not everyone is equipped to take it. The course requires a working knowledge of calculus and Python, a popular coding language. The course description says, “No experience necessary,” but by the second week students are expected to submit code that expresses complex equations and reorders data for use in deep learning.

An example from the new Deep Learning specialization on Coursera.
An example from the new Deep Learning specialization on Coursera.

Investment in AI has boomed in the last few years, with somewhere between $26 billion and $39 billion poured into the field in 2016 alone, according to a McKinsey report.

“I don’t think every person on the planet needs to know deep learning. But if AI is the new electricity, look at the number of electrical engineers and electricians there are. There’s a huge workforce that needs to be built up for society to figure out how to do all of the wonderful stuff around us today,” Ng told MIT Tech Review.