Udacity’s new, online A.I. course targets an important market: bosses

February 20, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

Udacity, the online education company co-founded by Google X moonshot founder Sebastian Thrun, is trying to capitalize on executive interest in artificial intelligence. The company announced Thursday that it would offer a new online program intended for executives looking to incorporate A.I. into their businesses.

Udacity’s online courses have previously been oriented towards people wanting to educate themselves in tech-oriented fields like computer programming and data science.

“This is our first foray into the leadership space,” Udacity CEO Gabriel Dalporto said. “Most of our programs have been around creating practitioners.”

Udacity first debuted an A.I. training program for people to learn machine learning skills via online courses in 2016. The A.I. training program was part of Udacity’s other online training programs, which can last between six to nine months and cost students between $1,800 to $2,400 to obtain the company’s so-called nanodegrees.  

Udacity’s A.I. leadership program, which will debut on Feb. 25, differs from the previous A.I. training program in that students won’t learn practical skills, like how to create neural networks (the infrastructure software that learns and adapts to large amounts of data). Instead, Dalporto said, the leadership program will teach business managers basic A.I. fundamentals, like terminology, to help them communicate with their data science staff. The new program will also explore which machine-learning techniques are best suited for particular corporate uses, like sales forecasting. The potential impacts of biased data, which can cause companies’ A.I. systems to potentially discriminate against people underrepresented in the datasets, is also a topic of the course. 

Dalporto said the A.I. leadership program would require managers to dedicate five hours per week for between six to eight weeks, in order to watch the online training seminars and complete coursework that involves creating an A.I. strategy for their companies or dummy businesses as examples. Executives from BMW—which has used Udacity to train its employees in A.I.—helped develop some of the coursework, along with MIT Sloan School of management professor Erik Brynjolfsson, who will lecture in some of online videos. 

With the new A.I. leadership programs, Udacity joins a hosts of other firms that have debuted A.I. training programs and education materials for corporate leaders who may be confused about the trending technology. For instance, the World Economic Forum created A.I. guidelines for business leaders to familiarize themselves with the benefits and potential pitfalls of applying A.I. to their companies; Stanford’s graduate school of business has an A.I. executive education program; and Udacity rival Coursera has an A.I. program that it pitches to non-technical managers as a way to learn “how to build a sustainable AI strategy.” 

“The reality is we have competitors,” Udacity co-founder Thrun said. “We are not the only ones obviously—there’s many.”

But because the overall business world lacks managers trained in A.I., Thrun believes Udacity will still get executives to sign up for its program.

“If as a manager you don’t understand the technology, you will be scared by it,” Thrun said. 

Udacity said the new A.I. leadership course is included with the company’s enterprise plan it sells to companies on a subscription basis. Udacity declined to comment about how much its corporate training plans cost, only to say that it is a “multi-year, seat-based subscription model that gives learners access to all of our Nanodegree programs and courses.”

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