Today we're adding MIT's course on Artificial Intelligence to our ever-growing collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities. That's because, to paraphrase Amazon's Jeff Bezos, artificial intelligence (AI) is "not just in the first inning of a long baseball game, but at the stage where the very first batter comes up." Look around, and you will find AI everywhere--in self driving cars, Siri on your phone, online customer support, movie recommendations on Netflix, fraud detection for your credit cards, etc. To be sure, there's more to come.
Featuring 30 lectures, MIT's course "introduces students to the basic knowledge representation, problem solving, and learning methods of artificial intelligence." It includes interactive demonstrations designed to "help students gain intuition about how artificial intelligence methods work under a variety of circumstances." And, by the end of the course, students should be able "to develop intelligent systems by assembling solutions to concrete computational problems; understand the role of knowledge representation, problem solving, and learning in intelligent-system engineering; and appreciate the role of problem solving, vision, and language in understanding human intelligence from a computational perspective."
Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.
Philip K. Dick died in 1982. His distinctive, some say visionary brand of psychological sci-fi literature, however, has lived on, proving its endurance in part by taking new forms. Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's hugely influential adaptation of Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, premiered just three months after the author's departure. More films followed over the years, including Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall (an adaptation of "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"), Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, and many others.
Dick's work has also provided the basis for radio dramas, television shows (most recently Netflix's The Man in the High Castle, with an ambitious anthology series coming to Channel 4 this spring), and stage productions. Typically, these adaptations use the stories and novels in which Dick wrote the setting, plot, and characters with relative straightforwardness. Other, later works found him plunging as deep into philosophy and autobiography as into science fiction. The change happened around the time he saw a mysterious pink light and met God in 1974, or claimed to, and it produced a final set of novels known as the VALIS trilogy.
The fractured tale of an authorial alter-ego named Horselover Fat, VALIS (short for "Vast Active Living Intelligence System"), the first book in the trilogy, involves an alien space probe, Watergate, the Messiah, lasers, and a range of references to religions like Christianity, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, and the Red Cross Brotherhood; philosophy from the ancient Greeks to Plato, Pascal, and Schopenhauer; and cultural figures like Handel, Wagner, Goethe, and Frank Zappa. It would take an ambitious mind indeed to adapt such a thing: specifically, it took the mind of Tod Machover, composer and director of MIT's Media Lab, who turned it into an opera in 1987.
"We live in a world that is becoming in fact more and more fragmented, more and more complex," says Machover on the relevance of VALIS at an interview at the Philip K. Dick Fan Site. "You don’t have to have a pink light experience to realize that there is too much information to not only be aware of but to make any kind of sense out of." He describes this "incredible feeling of the world being not only too complex for any one person to make sense out of but also dangerously complex, to the point where people will not only not understand each other but end up hating each other and being absolutely crushed under the burden of just trying to make sense with how much there is to know."
In his VALIS opera, which premiered at Paris' Centre Georges Pompidou with installations created by video artist Catherine Ikam, Machover tried to get that feeling artistically across, and you can hear it free on Spotify. (If you don't have Spotify's software, you can download it here. There's a Youtube version right above.) Back then in the 80s, he says, it "seemed like through our media and communications there’d be a kind of facile way of connecting people, a sort of passivity and turning on your cable TV and seeing what’s going on today in Tokyo or in Europe and you sort of feel like you can take all this stuff in. But in fact I think what we’re seeing now is exactly what Dick predicted, which is that it ain’t that easy." And it sure hasn't got any easier.
If I had my way, more academics would care about teaching beyond the walls of the academy. They'd teach to a broader public and consider ways to make their material more engaging, if not inspiring, to new audiences. You can find examples out there of teachers who are doing it right. The heirs of Carl Sagan--Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye--know how to light a spark and make their material come alive on TV and YouTube. How they do this is not exactly a mystery, not after M.I.T. posted online a course called "Becoming the Next Bill Nye: Writing and Hosting the Educational Show."
Taught at M.I.T. over a month-long period, Becoming the Next Bill Nye was designed to teach students video production techniques that would help them "to engagingly convey [their] passions for science, technology, engineering, and/or math." By the end of the course, they'd know how to script and host a 5-minute YouTube show.
If you google my name, spelled in the unconventional way that I spell it, the first search results won't having anything to do with me. They'll reference another Dan Colman who, in the past year, has made a good chunk of change playing poker -- including winning $15.3 million in one tournament alone. He apparently did it all without availing himself of MIT's course -- Poker Theory and Analytics -- taught by Kevin Desmond, a graduate student in MIT's Sloan School of Management. Desmond has competed at the top levels of the poker world and worked as a Morgan Stanley analyst, and he contends that being successful in both realms requires "balancing expected returns against associated risks and," ... and "the key to success is self-discipline."
According to MIT News, Poker Theory and Analytics introduced students to poker strategy, psychology, and decision-making in eleven lectures." Along with giving students the chance to play endless rounds of poker, the class featured guest speakers -- "Bill Chen, a professional player best known for his appearances on the Game Show Network’s High Stakes Poker television show, Matt Hawrilenko, a Princeton graduate who won more than $1 million at the World Series of Poker in 2009, and Aaron Brown, chief risk manager at AQR Capital Management." And it culminated with a live tournament.
Last Thursday, MIT released two staggeringly cool videos. And I don't think I'm being hyperbolic in saying that. Above we have a robotic cheetah that's "trained" to "see and jump over hurdles as it runs — making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously." The cheetah knows when to jump by using LIDAR — "a visual system that uses reflections from a laser to map terrain." MIT News has more on the tech behind this creation.
Making almost equally big news is another MIT invention -- a miniature origami robot that self-folds, walks, swims, and degrades. As the electrical engineering website IEEE Spectrum explains:
The unfolded robot, which is made of a magnet and PVC sandwiched between laser-cut structural layers (polystyrene or paper), weighs just 0.31 g and measures 1.7 cm on a side. Once placed on a heating element, the PVC contracts, and where the structural layers have been cut, it creates folds....
Once you’re done messing around, you can drive the robot into a tank of acetone and it will entirely dissolve.
One day, if things go according to plan, these creatures will become small enough to perform important medical tasks within your body, and then when they're done, poof, they'll be gone. And you'll have an MIT researcher partly to thank.
On May 3, 1967, Dr. Timothy Leary, that high priest of hallucinogens, faced off in a debate with MIT professor Dr. Jerome Lettvin about LSD in MIT's Kresge Auditorium. Leary spent the debate in the lotus position, dressed in a white gown, beads and bare feet. The very picture of a counter culture icon. Lettvin, on the other hand, cuts a distinctly conservative figure, sporting a short-sleeved white shirt, a skinny tie and thick-framed glasses. On first blush, the debate might look like a stereotypical clash between the hip versus the square, but it ended up being much more interesting than that. Lettvin, who proved to be at least as charismatic as Leary, more than held his own against the man Richard Nixon once called “the most dangerous man in American.” You can watch the full debate above.
Leary speaks for the first half of the video. For those familiar with his routine, little of what you see will come as a surprise. He argues that LSD is a “a way of life and a sacrament and a sacrament is something that gets you high." He goes on to cite groundbreaking figures like Einstein, Newton and William James who struggled to understand reality and consciousness. “The real goal of the scientist is to flip out,” he said to a packed auditorium filled with future scientists. “I don’t know if LSD is good or bad. It’s a gamble. It’s a risk. The sacrament is always a risk. … What isn’t? But LSD is the best gamble in the house.” Aiding him with his argument is a psychedelic picture show featuring a steady stream of images including ocean waves rolling backward, children bouncing on trampolines, and a man in a goatee eating soup, all set to a soundtrack by Ravi Shankar.
“Tim, your argument is exceedingly seductive,” Lettvin concedes at the beginning of his presentation (it begins around the 30:30 mark), which had none of the visual razzamatazz of Leary’s spiel. “I feel like this man is [in] the hands of the devil.”
Lettvin, however, proves not to be your standard anti-drug scold. At one point in the debate, he proclaims, “I can conceive of no more immoral thing than has been done by the government in the wholesale banning of drugs. … There’s a fundamentally monstrous thing about forbidding rather than reasoning people out.” And that’s exactly what Lettvin set out to do -- reason the audience against taking acid. “The question is not scientific but moral,” he says. LSD has the potential to rob takers of their critical faculties, rendering them permanently spaced out. “The price seems a little steep to pay. You are settling for a permanent second rate world by the abnegation of the intellect.”
Lettvin’s performance is all the more impressive because he had little time to prepare. The faculty member who was originally slated to debate Leary bowed out at the last moment, and organizers scrambled to get someone, anyone, to face down the famed guru. Lettvin reportedly came straight from the lab to the auditorium and he even had to borrow a tie. Too bad Leary didn’t have a spare Nehru jacket.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily. The Veeptopus store is here.
Bonaverde's “Roast-Grind-Brew Coffee Machine” seemed like one of the cooler inventions I've recently stumbled upon. But then I came across this: The Copenhagen Wheel. Originally created by researchers at MIT, the Copenhagen Wheel "transforms ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes." It allows bike riders to "capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need a bit of a boost" -- like climbing a hill in San Francisco. The wheel also feeds data to your iPhone, allowing you to monitor pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time. After spending several years in development, the wheel can now be pre-ordered online and it will ship next spring. It retails for $699.
Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.
FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media. We find the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.