The AI TA: Udacity’s Plans for Artificial Intelligence and Online Ed

The AI TA: Udacity’s Plans for Artificial Intelligence and Online Ed


Sebastian Thrun, the co-founder and CEO of online education provider Udacity, recently granted an interview to MIT’s Technology Review, in which he addressed, among other things, the recent hubbub at San Jose State (which we also touched on here).

Thrun also made some pretty intriguing observations—among them were the possibility that, within a year, artificial intelligence (AI) technology might be incorporated into the Udacity offer:

…we intervene manually right now based on the predictions we get from students’ profiles. But we haven’t automated this yet. So eventually it’s going to be a big piece of artificial intelligence that sits there, watches you learn, and helps you pick the right learning venue or task, so you’re more effective and have more pleasure.

Thrun’s “AI TA” (our term, not his) would track students’ inputs and make “detours” in the educational program, as needed, in order to better support students’ progress. Thrun is enthusiastic about bringing AI into online learning, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to make it a part of online grading; at least, from a qualitative perspective (i.e., grading essays as opposed to multiple-choice tests):

When someone writes an essay, you want to give meaningful feedback so they can improve. I’ve seen good progress on the assessment of essays; I’ve seen almost no progress on qualified feedback. And that’s where you have a very simple opinion—you just have people do it.

Do you see AI in online ed as a benefit or a liability? Let us know.

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