Andrew Ng launches ‘AI for Everyone,’ a new Coursera program aimed at business professionals

Coursera cofounder Andrew Ng poses in an undated photo.

Andrew Ng, a computer scientist who led Google’s AI division, Google Brain, and formerly served as vice president and chief scientist at Baidu, is a veritable celebrity in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry.

After leaving Baidu, he debuted an online curriculum of classes centered around machine learning — Deeplearning.ai — and soon after launched Landing.ai, a startup with the goal of “revitalizing manufacturing through AI.” (One of its first partners was Taiwanese company Foxconn, which produces the bulk of Apple’s iPhones.) Ng was the keynote speaker at the AI Frontiers Conference in November 2017, and this year unveiled the AI Fund, a $175 million incubator that backs small teams of experts looking to solve key problems using machine learning.

Oh, and he’s also chairman of AI cognitive behavioral therapy startup Woebot; sits on the board of driverless car company Drive.ai; and wrote a guide to AI (“Machine Learning Yearning”) which he distributed for free. Yet somehow, he found time to put together a new online training course — “AI for Everyone” — that seeks to demystify AI for business executives.

Ng has always had a passion for education. At Stanford, where he previously served as director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, he started the Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE), a compendium of freely available online courses. It served as the foundation for Coursera, an online learning platform Ng cofounded with Daphne Koller in 2012. As of June 2018, Coursera had more than 33 million registered users enrolled in more than 2,400 courses.

Ng’s new course is available through Coursera (appropriately) for $49 per month, and launches in early 2019. And while it’s open to anyone, it’s principally geared toward business professionals who want to “better understand AI” and how it can impact their business — that is to say, executives interested in learning to select AI projects that’ll yield a return.

“AI is affecting every industry, and it’s important for people in all of these different roles to understand enough about AI to know how to navigate their businesses,” Ng told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “This course is for a non-technical audience, and I hope [it’ll] teach every one of the folks in our … audience how to navigate AI both for their industries as well as for their own careers.”

It walks learners through the process of managing and organizing AI teams within their companies, and provides tools to help “cut through the hype” and discover the potential — and limitations — of AI as it exists today. Additionally, it supplies in-depth case studies illustrating how complex AI systems are built and maintained, all the while providing guidance on practical matters such providing data to an AI team and training, developing, and testing said data.

Some of those case studies will detail unsuccessful implementations about AI — failures that Ng says aren’t talked about often enough.

“What has happened is that the public sees success story after success story, and just like a learning algorithm that sees only positive examples will tend to think everything is a positive example, the fact that executives only see positive examples make them think that AI can do anything,” he said. “One of the things we will do in this course is present a few examples of things that today’s AI technology cannot do, and I hope that this will help people … make better judgments about what could be promising projects … and also projects that cannot be done with today’s technology.”

By the end of the course, Ng says, learners will not only how to navigate “both their company and their own career” through AI’s rising tide, but understand how it’s “affecting society.”

“Artificial intelligence will transform every industry, just as electricity did 100 years ago,” Ng wrote in a blog post, pointing to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute. AI will result in a 1.2 percent increase in gross domestic product growth (GDP) over the next 10 years, the researcher firm predicted this year, and help capture an additional 20-25 percent in net economic benefits — $13 trillion globally — in the next 12.

Some enterprises could use a helping hand, though. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that only 53 percent are planning AI investments and use cases, and that a measly 4 percent said that they’ve successfully implemented the technology. That said, as many as 42 percent of executives believe AI will be of “critical importance” within two years, according to Deloitte, and by some estimates, the enterprise AI market will be worth $6.14 billion by 2022.

It would seem that Ng’s course is aptly timed.

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