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Machine Learning Beverage

Although my formal training is in subjects like math and economics and animal husbandry, most of the money-work I do is in subjects like data science and fareology and writing over-the-top religious polemics. This is one of the reasons why I'm so sour on the value of college, as my multi-million-dollar investment in tuition and pitchers of Ice Dog beer and Tower Party t-shirts didn't even provide me the opportunity to learn any of these.

I did get to take an "Artificial Intelligence" class. The only listed prerequisite was the "Intro to CS" class, but a brand new professor was teaching and she decided to make it a much more advanced class, and then I was going to partner with my friend who was a CS major so that he could handle all the more advanced programming aspects, but he dropped the class after a couple of weeks so he could spend his senior year focused on "not taking classes", which meant that I got to spend my senior year focused on "learning enough about computer programming to not fail the class", after which I picked up a bit of "how to sometimes beat the computer at tic-tac-toe" and "how to sometimes beat the computer at Reversi" and "how to narrowly avoid coming in last place in the classwide 'Pac War' tournament."

Despite that initial setback, over the course of my career I've managed to learn bits and pieces of what's variously called "machine learning", "artificial intelligence", or "guessing stuff". I suspect I would be more popular at data mining parties if I had a smidge more training in these subjects, and so I was very excited at the prospect of Stanford's free online Artificial Intelligence Class and Machine Learning Course, both of which are offered this fall. (There's also a Database Class, but I know too much about databases already.)

You don't get actual Stanford credit if you take the classes online, but I don't particularly want Stanford credit, which means that's not a deal-breaker. You get some sort of certificate signed by the professors listing your rank in the class, which will probably be somewhere in the millions thanks to all the Chinese students who will be cheating on their assignments, but I don't particularly want a certificate either. I wouldn't mind some sort of bumper sticker ("MY COMPUTER ALGORITHM IS SMARTER THAN YOUR HONOR STUDENT AND FURTHERMORE WON'T EVER BE UNEMPLOYED AND LIVING IN MY BASEMENT UNDER A CRIPPLING MOUNTAIN OF STUDENT-LOAN DEBT"), but that doesn't seem to be part of the plan.

Most likely I won't have enough time to devote to the classes anyway, what with work and training the baby to take over the world someday and trying to finish the novel about the boy who likes to play baseball but is no good at it. And this isn't helped by the fact that both classes are going to have hours of online lectures that I'm going to have to sit through. Lectures!

I twittered the other day that if I have to sit through lectures then you're not really transforming education. A lot of people (reasonably) interpreted this as a dig at the Khan Academy, but I was more angry at the Stanford CS department, which is tech-savvy enough to offer courses over the Internet to millions of cheating Chinese people and yet not tech-savvy enough to think of a better method of knowledge transmission than lectures with slides, which were invented by Moses or possibly even God, making them thousands of years old. I'm happy to take their quizzes and solve their problem sets and write their examinations, but the prospect of having to spend time listening to lectures is really glooming me down.

It's not that I don't appreciate what they're doing, but if the Stanford Computer Science department really wants to revolutionize the educational process, they should figure out a way to upload information directly into my brain, or to embed it subliminally in Spider-Man cartoons, or to make it somehow drinkable. "Machine Learning Class" is the past; the future belongs to whoever first figures out "Machine Learning Beverage"!

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