Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teach the Kids (or yourself) to Code or What is the Founder of Google-X Up To?

Following up on this morning's "Technology: So Where's the #&@*$% Innovation?" which looked at the very unappealing combination of intellectual stagnation and arrogance that seems to encapsulate the zeitgeist of Silicon Valley ca 2013. One of the people trying to sort through the mess is the sometimes controversial co-founder of Udacity, Sebastian Thrun.
From his Stanford webpage:
I am a research professor at Stanford, a Google Fellow, and a co-founder of Udacity.
At Google, founded Google X, which is home to projects like the Google self-driving car and the recently announced Google Glass. We are trying to radically innovate, innovate, innovate. And I am on a mission to learn from Google's amazing founders, Sergey and Larry.

At Udacity, we are trying to democratize higher education. Udacity stands for "we are audacious, for you, the student". This is an audacious step, and it has been a thrill ride.
At Stanford, I still have my research group, after giving up my tenure earlier in 2011. We do all sorts of research on using AI to improve people's daily lives. 

I don't know if he has any answers but he does have interests, robots, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, MOOC's etc that may point the way.
From Fast Company, December2013-January 2014:
Udacity's Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course 
He captivated the world with visions of self-driving cars and Google Glass and has signed up 1.6 million students for online classes. So why is he pivoting away from MOOCs? "We don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished," Thrun says.

There's a story going around college campuses--whispered about over coffee in faculty lounges, held up with great fanfare in business-school sections, and debated nervously by chain-smoking teaching assistants.
It begins with a celebrated Stanford University academic who decides that he isn't doing enough to educate his students. The Professor is a star, regularly packing 200 students into lecture halls, and yet he begins to feel empty. What are 200 students in an age when billions of people around the world are connected to the Internet?

So one day in 2011, he sits down in his living room with an inexpensive digital camera and starts teaching, using a stack of napkins instead of a chalkboard. "Welcome to the first unit of Online Introduction to Artificial Intelligence," he begins, his face poorly lit and slightly out of focus. "I'll be teaching you the very basics today." Over the next three months, the Professor offers the same lectures, homework assignments, and exams to the masses as he does to the Stanford students who are paying $52,000 a year for the privilege. A computer handles the grading, and students are steered to web discussion forums if they need extra help.
Some 160,000 people sign up: young men dodging mortar attacks in Afghanistan, single mothers struggling to support their children in the United States, students in more than 190 countries. The youngest kid in the class is 10; the oldest is 70. Most struggle with the material, but a good number thrive. When the Professor ranks the scores from the final exam, he sees something shocking: None of the top 400 students goes to Stanford. They all took the class on the Internet. The experiment starts to look like something more.

Higher education is an enormous business in the United States--we spend approximately $400 billion annually on universities, a figure greater than the revenues of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter combined--and the Professor has no trouble rounding up a group of Silicon Valley's most prestigious investors to support his new project. The Professor's peers follow suit: Two fellow Stanford faculty members launch a competing service the following spring, with tens of millions of dollars from an equally impressive group of backers, and Harvard and MIT team up to offer their own platform for online courses. By early 2013, nearly every major institution of higher learning--from the University of Colorado to the University of Copenhagen, Wesleyan to West Virginia University--will be offering a course through one of these platforms.

Suddenly, something that had been unthinkable--that the Internet might put a free, Ivy League–caliber education within reach of the world's poor--seems tantalizingly close. "Imagine," an investor in the Professor's company says, "you can hand a kid in Africa a tablet and give him Harvard on a piece of glass!" The wonky term for the Professor's work, massive open online course, goes into such wide use that a New York Times headline declares 2012 the "Year of the MOOC." "Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty," its star columnist Thomas Friedman enthuses, terming the new category "a budding revolution in global online higher education."

It is a good story, as well manicured as a college quad during homecoming weekend. But there's a problem: The man who started this revolution no longer believes the hype.
"I'd aspired to give people a profound education--to teach them something substantial," Professor Sebastian Thrun tells me when I visit his company, Udacity, in its Mountain View, California, headquarters this past October. "But the data was at odds with this idea."...MUCH MORE, including some punchy little sidebars.
As for the headline, it refers to Thrun's Udacity where you can indeed teach yourself/your progeny a range of computer skills.
Khan Academy, MIT, Mozilla’s School of Webcraft and Google Code University also have offerings for the little cherubs.
Since most polymaths are of necessity self-taught in the majority of the fields they take on this is one way to find out if your kids actually actually are the geniuses you think they are.