Sebastian Thrun gave one of the DLD12’s most inspiring speeches today, presenting his newest initiative in free online education. By offering free world class education, Thrun said, we can truly change the world.
Sebastian Thrun has long been recognized for his genius work with Google’s driverless cars. However, during today’s speech, the Stanford professor and computer science expert had an entirely different agenda.
Thrun engaged his audience with the heartwarming story about how an initial idea of offering his renowned Stanford classes for free to students online evolved into an education project touching hundreds of thousands of students across the world.
"I hoped for 500 students. We got 160,000," Thrun said.
Thrun’s approach is more than “just” offering quality teaching for free. What he wanted to do was, in fact, to revolutionize higher educate itself, he said.
The classes were soon translated into 44 languages and reached individuals he had never dared to imagine possible. An Afghan student wrote him an email describing how he risked his life to reach a hotspot, just to follow and complete the classes.
"With this class I was able to touch lives," Thun said.
At the same time, he achieved what regular classroom teaching cannot - creating a sense of connectivity with each student despite the large numbers of eager followers.
"Maybe we should rethink education," he concluded. "If we can make education free and accessible for the world, we can achieve things we never thought possible."
The first step on this journey was taken already today, right here at the DLD12. To the sound of massive applause, Thrun unveiled his Udacity.com project, tailored to power the global knowledge revolution.
The site will combine the quality teachings of one of the world’s sharpest minds in computer science and artificial intelligence with the reach that the Internet provides.
It will begin with a seven-week course on how to build a search engine, with a dedicated goal of attracting 500,000 students.
Judging from the initial interest in his online Stanford lectures, he is likely to succeed.