Four Questions For: Sebastian Thrun

You’re the founder of Udacity, which aims to democratize education. What changes have you seen in education since founding Udacity, and how do you expect education to transform in your lifetime?
In the future, education will shift from once-in-a-lifetime to lifelong. We are already seeing an increasing number of people demanding new education and new credentials as they walk through life. In the tech space, Udacity has become the go-to place for millions of people, not least because of our very strong ties to the tech industry, who eagerly hires our graduates. I also believe the sky-high tuition fees of existing universities will crumble.
Considering the potential job loss that we will experience as AI and robotics industries progress, how should education change? What jobs should our children prepare for?
Technology is moving faster and faster. People live longer and longer. So this means education has to become lifelong. For our kids, more than any math or language skill will be the skill of learning to learn. The next generation has to make mental growth and lifelong learning a core component of their lives.
How do you believe that AI can positively enrich human life? What is there to fear regarding AI?
AI will make us superhuman. Just as cars have made us superhuman (we can now “run” at 100mph), and phones have made us superhuman (we can now talk with people thousands of miles away), AI will give us superhuman memory, problem solving abilities, and an ability to get things done. 300 years ago, most of us worked in farming, doing the same physical task over and over again. Today, most of us work in offices, doing the same mental task over and over again. AI will do to boring repetitive mental work what the steam engine did to repetitive physical work in the fields.
How do you feel that AI can impact higher education? Will you see this in your lifetime?
At Udacity, we are already using AI and machine learning to maximize the chances of positive learning outcomes. We use AI to analyze individual students, helping our staff to time effective interventions. We use AI to analyze our content, finding any and every opportunity to improve the student learning experience. And of course, Udacity heavily teaches AI. Our students can get a nanodegree certificate in machine learning, or self-driving cars.
sebastian thrun
Sebastian Thrun is the CEO of Udacity, a former Google Fellow and VP, and a Research Professor at Stanford University. He has published over 370 scientific papers and 11 books, and he is a member of the National Academy of Engineering in the US. Sebastian works on revolutionizing all of transportation, education, homes, and medical care. Fast Company named Thrun the fifth most creative person in business, and Foreign Policy touted him Global Thinker #4. At Stanford, Sebastian led the Thrun Lab in creating Google Streetview. Then, at Google, Sebastian founded Google X. He leveraged X to launch projects like the self-driving cars, Google Glass, indoor navigation, Google Brain, Project Wing and Project Loon. At Udacity, his vision is to democratize higher education. Udacity stands for “we are audacious, for you, the student”. His team created the notion of “nanodegrees” which empower people from all traits and ages to find employent in the tech industry.