The way in which we use and maintain our educational base of knowledge is changing, and so must the way in which we measure that education. The college degree has long been one of the primary measures, but it is faced with pressure to transform itself into something new. As the price of a college education the availability of both knowledge and training on the internet have soared, it opens a large gap between expensive/exclusive and free/ubiquitous. How that gap is filled remains to be seen.
Such careful collegiality is not the Thrun way. “It’s pretty obvious that degrees will go away,” Thrun says. “The idea of a degree is that you spend a fixed time right after high school to educate yourself for the rest of your career. But careers change so much over a lifetime now that this model isn’t valid anymore.”
In the fall of 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig decided to offer their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course at Stanford in an online delivery and free. Responding to an email invitation that went viral in the blogosphere, over 160,000 students registered to take the course, although many of them dropped their participation early. The course was not simple and required a dedication of at least several hours each week. Sebastian Thrun says over 23,000 completed the course, and the spectacular success of the course has inspired him to make online education a full time effort.