Now At Udacity, Google X Founder Talks Self-Driving Cars And Jobs

By Carolyn Said
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity discusses Udacity’s online courses and the future of self driving cars.

San Francisco Chronicle

Sebastian Thrun wears many hats. He’s an expert in robotics and artificial intelligence, a scientist, educator, inventor and entrepreneur. He’s best known for founding Google X, a lab for world-changing, “moonshot” projects, and helping to pioneer self-driving cars at Google and Stanford, where he is a research professor.

Now he’s focusing on workforce training through his 5-year-old Mountain View startup Udacity, which offers online courses to quickly prepare students for tech jobs.

Udacity’s 12 “nanodegree” programs, which include certificates in self-driving engineering and artificial intelligence, cost a few hundred dollars, take a few months and are tailored to needs outlined by employers. Backed by $163 million in funding, Udacity is valued by the private markets at $1 billion and has served almost 5 million students worldwide. Thrun sees Udacity’s mission as democratizing education. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why do people call you the father of self-driving cars?

A: There are many fathers and mothers: teams, not individuals. But the DARPA Grand Challenge was the pivotal moment. (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency offered a cash prize for creating a fully autonomous ground vehicle that could complete a certain course. In 2005, Thrun led a Stanford team in developing Stanley, a robotic car that won the prize.) At the time, it was a niche event. Automotive companies didn’t take it seriously. Now there is tremendous velocity; you could say 2016 is the year of the self-driving car in terms of tech coverage.

Q: What technical barriers remain?

A: When a human driver makes a mistake, he or she learns but nobody else learns. When a self-driving car makes a mistake, all the other cars learn from it as well as the unborn cars, future cars. The rate of progress is much faster.

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