Last year, Stanford's Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class drew 177 students. This year, a free online course on artificial intelligence will boast 58,000—almost four times the size of the prestigious university's entire student body. The course is one of three being offered by Stanford's computer science department in an attempt to innovate Internet learning and make technology education available to the entire world. It's being taught by two of the best-known experts on the subject—both of whom aren't quite sure why the class has become so popular. But, “the vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” says one.
One of the professors rounded up only 80 registrants at an academic conference in Spain, but when the executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence forwarded an email announcement widely, it went viral. There are no restrictions on participation, and the class has drawn everyone from high school students to retirees in more than 175 countries, the New York Times reports. Though they won't get Stanford credit, the online students will be graded using a system running on the Amazon cloud. The professors will use Google's moderator service to answer student questions, and may even personalize exams to deter cheating.