Beginning in October, a new class in artificial intelligence will be taught by a pair of leading Silicon Valley experts at Stanford University. Normally, such an offering would not be news except this class is not restricted to as many students as are able to cram into a lecture hall nor is it even limited by the size of the Stanford student body (about 15,000 students). No, this class will be available to the world, online, and for free.

As of August 15, according to this New York Times article, prospective class enrollment was at 58,000 students. Now, however, interested students number well over 127,000 and are climbing daily. Interested parties can visit the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course’s web page and sign up to be notified when class registration is available. There is no posted limit to the number of attendees. Students of this course will not receive Stanford credit, nor will they have access to any other Stanford resources. A statement of accomplishment is awarded upon completion of the course.

The class’s instructors are Dr. Peter Norvig and Dr. Sebastian Thrun, both of whom are well-known AI experts. Dr. Thrun has led various projects in robotic and autonomous vehicle development, including a (formerly) secret Google project that developed autonomous vehicles that have driven over 100,000 miles on California roads. Dr. Norvig formerly worked for NASA and is now Director of Research at Google. He also co-wrote a textbook on AI titled Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach.

How will these two instructors manage and grade more than 100,000 prospective students? They have a system set up in the Amazon cloud that should be able to scale to whatever their needs are and will make extensive use of interactive technology to handle all quiz and test grading. In addition, the Google moderator service will allow them to simulate office hours and enable students to submit and vote on questions to be answered in online chat or video. In addition, methods to personalize exams have been considered in order to reduce cheating. The class starts on October 10th.

This course on AI isn’t the only free, online course being offered by Stanford; courses on database software and an introduction to machine learning are also being taught by experts in these fields. If none of these three classes is interesting to you, there are hundreds of free, online courses and lectures being offered by colleges and universities across the country in several fields of study. It is very likely that you will find at least one topic that interests you by visiting one of the following sites or doing a simple web search:

Have you ever taken a free, online course from a university? If so, what was your experience? Will you sign up for this AI course from Stanford? Share your thoughts below.