What is Deep Learning and Why Does Google Have a Free Course On It?

Mar 04, 2016 • Business
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It’s easy to get confused by all the new technical jargon that seems to be constantly spilling out of our computer screens. By now, you’ve probably heard about big data as a service, machine learning, and now deep learning, but differentiating between them isn’t always the easiest thing to do. The temptation may even be to ignore them, but all of these terms are actually a pretty big deal. Deep learning in particular is starting to catch on, and though some may think to overlook it for the time being, a recent announcement from Google may change some people’s minds. Google has started a free course meant to teach people about deep learning. So it’s obvious that deep learning is something Google values greatly, to the point that the company wants to teach others about it at no cost. So what exactly is deep learning and why would Google start a free course dedicated to it?

On the technical side of things, deep learning is actually just a term for artificial neural networks (ANN). In a very basic sense, artificial neural networks attempt to mimic how the brain works in processing and organizing lots of information at once. Whereas machine learning gets algorithms to help machines learn without any explicit programming, deep learning takes the process and makes it even more powerful. A machine that can perform deep learning techniques has multiple layers of neural networks, with each layer learning different features as it takes data and abstracts it. That means engineers and programmers don’t need to program specific features. All the learning is done on this neural network, which then classifies and categorizes the discovered patterns all on its own. It essentially takes a vast amount of unstructured and at times unmanageable data and makes it all much easier to handle. While deep learning may not be a perfect simulation of brain function, it gets many of the basics down. Even more crucially, it could be one of the links to one day creating true artificial intelligence.

So it’s clear that deep learning has a lot of potential when it comes to future technology. As one of the biggest tech giants out there, it makes sense for Google to devote an entire course to it. After all, Google uses deep learning for many of the services that it offers. The free course is provided by a for-profit online education site, Udacity. It’s estimated that the course will take approximately three months to complete, with students working around six hours each week. By creating this course, Google opens up the opportunity to more people to develop the skills needed to provide innovative solutions to deep learning problems and perhaps even join the Google team in the future. It’s worth noting that Google was the first company to actually introduce deep learning into its research division, so a course about deep learning could very well be an attempt by Google to increase the pool of qualified people they can pull from.

While that may be part of a motive for Google, there are other goals the company is talking about. For one thing, Google wants to make the technique of deep learning more accessible to more people. The free course is not something beginners should be looking to take; seasoned engineers and qualified data scientists are the intended audience here. Google also has big plans for deep learning beyond what they’re already doing. Another recent announcement has Google partnering with Movidius as they work to bring deep learning to everybody’s mobile devices. It’s a way to help these devices understand images and audio quickly without many errors. Mobile device security can also be greatly improved with the technique. Deep learning could also prove useful, perhaps even essential, for the Internet of Things when it becomes more mainstream.

Deep learning may be a new trend, but it’s an important one. It could be that one day, most of what we do will have some sort of deep learning technique behind it, controlling what happens. From casual email users, to cloud services, to converged infrastructure vendors, to those who use self-driving cars, deep learning will become a part of all our lives. Google is showing that they’re trying to stay ahead of the curve and keep people informed about how to use it.

Alex Espenson

Alex Espenson is a technology writer with a passion for home automation, tech security, and wearable smart devices.

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