Udacity's Sebastian Thrun is Democratizing Education AND Self-Driving Cars | Summary and Q&A

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September 13, 2016
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Udacity's Sebastian Thrun is Democratizing Education AND Self-Driving Cars

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Summary

In this video, Sebastian Thrun from Udacity and Laura Kalani discuss the importance of education, the concept of nano degrees, and their new self-driving car curriculum. Thrun talks about the mission of Udacity to democratize education and empower people worldwide. He also explains the unique refund policy for students who do not find a job within six months of completing a nano degree. Thrun mentions the partnerships with industry leaders and the involvement of top companies in shaping the curriculum. They discuss the potential of building a self-driving car with their students and the challenges of using lidar technology. Thrun shares his vision for the future of education, emphasizing lifelong learning and the need for new credentials. They touch upon the accessibility of education in less developed markets and the importance of Internet connectivity. Thrun also mentions his previous involvement with Google's self-driving car project and the possibility of re-entering the automotive industry.

Questions & Answers

Q: Can you tell us about Udacity's mission and the decision to launch an educational website?

Sebastian Thrun explains that Udacity was created to democratize education and empower people worldwide. He noticed that there was a limited number of engineers who were able to work on advanced technologies, such as self-driving cars, and wanted to provide a way for more people to join these fields. He also recognized the lack of access to quality education, especially in regions like the Middle East, Africa, South America, and Indonesia. By building a new kind of university, Udacity aimed to reach everyone and have a greater impact on the world.

Q: What is special about Udacity compared to other educational platforms?

Thrun mentions that Udacity offers nano degrees to students, which are focused and fast-paced programs that teach specific skills required for a particular industry. One key differentiator is that Udacity offers a refund for students who do not find a job within six months of completing a nano degree. They have partnered with universities and industry leaders, such as Google, Facebook, and Salesforce, to provide high-quality education and real-world projects. Udacity's curriculum is constantly updated based on industry needs, ensuring that students are well-prepared for the job market.

Q: How many students have received a refund from Udacity?

Thrun states that so far, they have refunded zero students. While not every student may have found a job, over 500 students have been successful in securing employment with a nano degree. Udacity has also established partnerships with companies like Flipkart in India, which hired Udacity graduates without conducting interviews, demonstrating the trust and value of the credentials offered by Udacity.

Q: What is the new nano degree program focused on?

Thrun reveals that they have recently launched a self-driving car curriculum in collaboration with industry partners such as Mercedes, Didi, OTO, and NVIDIA. This program includes the opportunity for the best students to run their software on an actual self-driving car, and they plan to open-source the software for broader use. Thrun emphasizes that Udacity wants to teach topics that universities cannot cover yet because of their fast pace and focus on bleeding-edge technologies.

Q: How does Udacity gain buy-in from employers outside of their network?

Thrun explains that hiring talent is a significant challenge for companies, and most self-driving car companies cannot find employees with a degree specifically in self-driving cars. By partnering with industry leaders and providing highly skilled graduates, Udacity offers a valuable talent pool for companies. They actively seek talent from all over the world, not just from traditional channels like LinkedIn or prestigious universities.

Q: Do you still teach at Stanford and Georgia Tech?

Thrun mentions that he taught one course at Stanford and is teaching at Georgia Tech, but he is primarily focused on Udacity and the future of education. He believes in building a university for the future that promotes lifelong learning and focuses on providing relevant skills for a rapidly changing world.

Q: Are you planning to re-enter the automotive industry?

Thrun confirms that they are considering building a self-driving car with their students and using the car as a way to engage and test their software. They want to conduct experiments on public streets in the Bay Area, creating a crowd-sourced open-source self-driving car platform. Thrun mentions that this is currently an experiment and does not provide further details on the involvement Udacity might have in the automotive industry.

Q: Can a good self-driving vehicle be built without lidar?

Thrun explains that his perspective has changed over time. While lidar technology was initially used because it provided good information, the cost and availability of automotive-grade lidar have been challenging. Thrun's thinking has shifted towards using deep learning and cameras only to develop self-driving cars. He believes that cameras can provide sufficient data for the car's vision system, and humans drive cars successfully without lidar. However, Thrun acknowledges that there are still technical challenges to overcome in this approach.

Q: What are some of the jobs that will be in demand with the rise of self-driving cars?

Thrun believes that self-driving car engineers will be highly sought after as more companies work on autonomous vehicles. He also mentions that artificial intelligence and machine learning engineers will be in great demand due to the advancements in these fields. Thrun points out that the rise of self-driving cars will also impact various industries, such as insurance, real estate, and transportation services, creating new employment opportunities.

Q: Do you think universities will become obsolete?

Thrun states that universities will not become obsolete but will change. He clarifies that Udacity is not competing with traditional universities, as there is still value in the campus experience and the social aspects of attending college. Udacity focuses on bridging the gap for adult learners and providing faster, more focused credentials. Thrun believes that traditional universities need to adapt to the changing landscape of education and embrace new pathways for learning and credentials.

Q: How do you ensure access to education in less developed markets?

Thrun acknowledges the importance of Internet connectivity and hardware access for education. He mentions the rapid increase in internet penetration and the efforts of companies like Google and Facebook to improve global access to the internet. While he does not directly address the distribution of education in less developed markets, he highlights the significant growth in mobile device adoption, which could enable individuals to access educational content if they have internet connectivity.

Takeaways

Sebastian Thrun from Udacity discusses the mission of democratizing education and empowering people worldwide. Udacity offers nano degrees, focused and fast-paced programs that provide specific skills and real-world projects. The unique refund policy for students who do not find a job within six months of completion highlights Udacity's commitment to their students' success. Thrun emphasizes the importance of industry partnerships and the involvement of top companies in shaping the curriculum. The launch of a self-driving car curriculum and the possibility of building a crowd-sourced open-source self-driving car demonstrate Udacity's innovative approach. Thrun envisions a future of lifelong learning and the need for new credentials. He believes universities will change and adapt but will not become obsolete. The rise of self-driving cars will create new job opportunities, with self-driving car engineers and AI/ML engineers in high demand. Thrun emphasizes the importance of global internet access and the increasing adoption of mobile devices for education.

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