How Would You Like a Graduate Degree for $100?
Ask Sebastian Thrun what makes him tick, and the inventor and Google Fellow offers up three favorite themes: big open problems, a desire to help people and “disrespect for authority.” Thrun, 45, has been aiming high—and annoying the old guard—for nearly two decades. As a college student in Germany he dashed off to conferences to present major papers on machine learning without getting his professor’s permission. Thrun made the cover of FORBES in 2006 with his talk of creating self-driving cars that could navigate traffic and follow directions without human guidance. As the founding head of Google’s advanced-research X Lab, Thrun helped turn those robocars into reality. After 200,000 miles of road tests his vehicles are safe enough for Nevada to approve them on public roads. California may follow suit.
Thrun has found a fresh challenge that excites him even more: fixing higher education. Conventional university teaching is way too costly, inefficient and ineffective to survive for long, he contends. He wants to foment a teaching revolution in which the world’s best instructors conduct highly interactive online classes that let them reach 100,000 students simultaneously and globally.
Financiers at Charles River Ventures have already pumped $5 million into Thrun’s online-ed startup, Udacity. “I like to back people who have disruptive personalities,” explains CRV partner George Zachary. “They create disruptive solutions.”