Andrew Ng: Deep Learning, Education, and Real-World AI | Lex Fridman Podcast #73

Lex Fridman Podcast
20 Feb 202089:10

TLDRIn this insightful conversation with Andrew Ng, one of the most influential figures in artificial intelligence, the discussion covers a wide range of topics. Ng, who co-founded Coursera and Google Brain, shares his early inspirations for entering the field of AI, driven by a fascination with automation and a desire to make a positive impact. He reflects on his experiences teaching at Stanford and the transition to online learning, which allowed him to reach a global audience. The talk delves into the growth of AI education, the importance of foundational knowledge, and the future of AI development. Ng also discusses his current projects, including the AI Fund, Landing AI, and Deep Learning AI, emphasizing the goal of making AI accessible for individuals and businesses. Throughout the discussion, he stresses the importance of learning as a habit, the value of practical experience, and the need for a diverse skillset in the ever-evolving landscape of AI.


  • 🌟 Andrew Ng's impact on AI education is immense, having co-founded Coursera and Google Brain, and inspired millions of students through his deep learning courses.
  • 🚀 Ng's early interest in AI was piqued by coding simple games at a young age and later, expert systems and neural networks, which led to a career focused on automation and machine learning.
  • 🤖 His work on automation extends to education, where he aimed to make his teaching more impactful by filming lectures, thus reaching a larger audience and allowing for deeper student interactions.
  • 📚 Ng's approach to teaching focuses on what's best for learners, emphasizing foundational knowledge to build a strong base for a long-term career in machine learning.
  • 🌐 He recognized the global interest in AI and machine learning, which extends beyond the traditional tech hubs and includes developers and enthusiasts from all over the world.
  • 📈 Ng believes that AI and machine learning will become as essential as literacy, with a broad range of professionals benefiting from data science applications in their work.
  • 💡 His preference for using a whiteboard for teaching complex concepts is rooted in the ability to build up ideas progressively and enforce a minimalist approach to ideas, which is effective for education.
  • 🎓 Ng's first PhD student, Peter Abbeel, worked on applying reinforcement learning to helicopter flight, showcasing the practical applications of AI in robotics.
  • 🔍 Despite early setbacks and the complexity of localization for the helicopter project, the team's perseverance led to successful demonstrations of AI in physical systems.
  • 🤔 Ng is a proponent of deep learning and was particularly convinced of its potential after seeing the correlation between the scale of training and the performance of learning algorithms.
  • 🌱 He encourages budding AI professionals to start small, build practical projects, and continuously learn through courses, research papers, and engaging with the AI community.

Q & A

  • What inspired Andrew Ng to get into computer science and machine learning?

    -Andrew Ng was inspired to get into computer science and machine learning at a young age while growing up in Hong Kong and Singapore. He started learning to code when he was five or six years old, and was fascinated by the ability to write code that allowed him to play simple video games. His interest deepened as a teenager when he read about expert systems and neural networks, and he was further inspired by an internship experience where he thought about automating tasks like photocopying.

  • How did Andrew Ng's early experiences with automation influence his career?

    -Andrew Ng's early experiences, such as his internship involving a lot of photocopying, led him to think about how software and robots could be used to automate repetitive tasks. This theme of automation has been central to his work, from developing learning algorithms that can automate tasks people do, to launching MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) with the aim of automating parts of the educational process to have a larger impact.

  • What was Andrew Ng's approach to teaching machine learning at Stanford and later on Coursera?

    -Andrew Ng's approach to teaching was focused on putting learners first. He aimed to create content that was as clear and accessible as possible, avoiding the temptation to focus on his own research work. He also innovated by filming his lectures and making them available online, which eventually led to the creation of Coursera and the ability to reach millions of students worldwide.

  • How did Andrew Ng feel about the impact of his online teaching efforts?

    -Andrew Ng felt a deep sense of humility and satisfaction from his online teaching efforts. Despite the late hours and the effort required to produce the content, he was inspired by the potential to help hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions, of people learn about machine learning.

  • What was Andrew Ng's vision for the future of AI and machine learning?

    -Andrew Ng envisioned a future where a large percentage of developers would be AI developers or at least have an appreciation for machine learning. He also believed that people from various disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, would increasingly use machine learning tools, leading to a broader understanding and integration of AI across different fields.

  • What was Andrew Ng's experience like working with his first PhD student, Peter Abbeel?

    -Andrew Ng had a very positive experience working with Peter Abbeel, his first PhD student. They worked together on a challenging project using reinforcement learning to fly helicopters. Despite the difficulties and setbacks they faced, they achieved significant results that were inspiring to many in the field of robotics.

  • What was the biggest mistake made in the early days of Google Brain according to Andrew Ng?

    -The biggest mistake made in the early days of Google Brain, according to Andrew Ng, was the emphasis on unsupervised learning over supervised learning. They believed unsupervised learning would be the path forward, but later realized that the power of supervised learning, especially with larger datasets, was more significant.

  • What was Andrew Ng's intuition about the importance of scale in deep learning?

    -Andrew Ng's intuition was that increasing the scale of neural networks, particularly through larger datasets, would lead to better performance. This idea was considered groundbreaking and controversial at the time, but it proved to be a key factor in the success of deep learning projects.

  • How does Andrew Ng approach the challenge of small data in AI applications?

    -Andrew Ng approaches the challenge of small data by focusing on the quality of the data and the processes around it. His team at Landing AI works on pragmatic real-world problems, such as refining the labeling process and managing disagreements in data annotation, which are crucial when dealing with small datasets.

  • What advice does Andrew Ng give to individuals interested in getting started in deep learning?

    -Andrew Ng advises individuals to take courses like the Deep Learning Specialization on Coursera, which he co-teaches. These courses provide a solid foundation in deep learning concepts without requiring extensive prior knowledge. He also emphasizes the importance of building a habit of learning and starting small with practical projects.

  • What are some key concepts in deep learning that Andrew Ng believes students should learn?

    -Key concepts in deep learning that Andrew Ng believes students should learn include the fundamentals of neural networks, activation functions, training neural networks, optimization algorithms, understanding overfitting, and the importance of collecting the right amount of data. He also stresses the importance of practical know-how, such as debugging machine learning algorithms and building efficient machine learning systems.



🎓 Impactful Contributions to AI and Education

Andrew, a leading figure in AI and technology, discusses his journey and contributions, including co-founding Coursera, Google Brain, and the AI Fund. He shares his experiences as a Stanford professor, his work in deep learning, and his efforts to educate millions through online platforms. Andrew also talks about his early inspirations, from coding games as a child to reading about neural networks as a teenager, and how these experiences led him to a career in computer science and machine learning.


🌟 Inspiring Millions through Online Learning

Andrew reflects on his experiences teaching at Stanford and the transition to online learning with Coursera. He describes the challenges and rewards of creating content for a massive online audience, often filming late into the night. His dedication to putting learners first and focusing on their needs was a key principle in developing Coursera. Andrew also discusses the realization that there is a much larger global interest in AI than initially thought, and his commitment to making educational resources accessible to anyone interested in the field.


📈 The Evolution of Online Education Features

In this paragraph, Andrew talks about the process of iterating and experimenting with different features for online learning platforms. He shares a story about a failed attempt to create a feature for group learning, which taught him valuable lessons about user preferences. Andrew emphasizes the importance of simplicity and focusing on the most effective features to enhance the learning experience. He also discusses the growth of interest in machine learning and the potential for AI to become a fundamental skill across various professions.


💡 The Power of Simplicity in Teaching

Andrew explains his preference for using a whiteboard and marker during lectures, even in the age of digital presentations. He believes that the process of building up concepts step-by-step on a whiteboard can enhance understanding, particularly for mathematical concepts. Andrew also discusses the importance of focusing on basic principles and the value of minimalism in education. He shares memories of working with his first PhD student, Peter Abbeel, and the challenges they faced in their research.


🚁 Practical Applications of Machine Learning

Andrew discusses the early days of applying machine learning to real-world problems, such as using reinforcement learning to fly helicopters. He talks about the practical challenges they faced, such as localization issues, and the innovative solutions they developed. Andrew emphasizes the importance of having a clear pathway to help people as a motivator for his work. He also shares his thoughts on the importance of scale in deep learning and the controversy it faced in the early days.


🤖 Tackling Messy Data Problems in AI

In this paragraph, Andrew addresses the challenges of working with small and messy datasets in various industries outside of consumer internet companies. He talks about the need for innovative solutions to manage data and the practical problems that arise from disagreements in labeling. Andrew also discusses the importance of understanding the labeling process and resolving disagreements as part of dealing with real-world data problems.


📚 Navigating the Path to Deep Learning

Andrew provides insights into how individuals can get started in deep learning, emphasizing the resources offered by, such as the deep learning specialization on Coursera. He outlines the prerequisites for the course, which include basic programming skills and high school-level math. Andrew also discusses the key concepts covered in the course and the practical knowledge students gain, such as optimization algorithms and dealing with overfitting.


🧠 Challenges and Aha Moments in Learning Deep Learning

Andrew talks about the challenges students face when learning deep learning and the importance of building on concepts sequentially. He shares his experiences in teaching and the moments that inspire students, such as using deep reinforcement learning to demonstrate the power of neural networks. Andrew also discusses the current state of reinforcement learning in real-world applications and the importance of focusing on fundamentals in education.


🌱 The Importance of Unsupervised Learning

Andrew expresses his enthusiasm for unsupervised learning and self-supervised learning techniques, which he considers a beautiful and important aspect of AI. He discusses various methods for generating labeled datasets from unlabeled data and the potential of these techniques to unlock new capabilities in machine learning systems. Andrew also shares his thoughts on the future impact of unsupervised learning in computer vision and other areas.


🚀 Building a Career in Deep Learning

Andrew offers advice on how to build a career in deep learning, emphasizing the importance of starting small and gaining practical experience. He discusses the different paths one can take, including working in industry, academia, or starting a company. Andrew also talks about his experiences in creating the AI Fund, a startup studio aimed at systematically building new AI companies and making a positive impact on the world.


🤖 Integrating AI into Industries

Andrew discusses the transformative potential of AI across all industries and the opportunities for AI to drive global economic growth. He shares his experiences in helping established companies integrate AI into their operations and the importance of starting small and learning from early projects. Andrew also talks about the challenges of deploying machine learning systems in real-world settings and the need for robust solutions that can adapt to changing conditions.


🌟 Long-Term Impact and Ethical Considerations

Andrew reflects on the long-term impact of AI, including the potential for human-level or superhuman-level intelligence. He expresses concerns about issues such as wealth inequality, bias, and the ethical use of AI. Andrew also discusses the importance of focusing on immediate and tangible problems rather than getting distracted by distant, speculative concerns. He emphasizes the need to ensure that AI systems align with human values and contribute positively to society.


💖 Personal Fulfillment and Life's Journey

In the final paragraph, Andrew shares his thoughts on personal fulfillment and the meaning of life, which he believes is about helping others achieve their dreams and making humanity more powerful. He reflects on moments of pride and happiness in his life, particularly those involving the opportunity to help others. Andrew also discusses the importance of continuous learning and discovery, and the joy that comes from making a positive impact through one's work.



💡Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. In the context of the video, Andrew Ng, a leading figure in AI, discusses the impact of AI on education, technology, and real-world applications. Ng's work with Coursera, Google Brain, and AI Fund exemplifies how AI is not only a field of study but also a powerful tool for innovation and education.


Coursera is an online learning platform that offers courses, professional certificates, and degrees in a variety of disciplines. Andrew Ng co-founded Coursera, which has played a significant role in making high-quality education accessible to a global audience. The platform is mentioned in the script as one of the ways Ng has helped educate millions, including the podcast host.

💡Google Brain

Google Brain is an AI research project by Google that uses deep learning to analyze and understand large datasets. Andrew Ng's involvement in launching Google Brain is highlighted in the script as a pivotal moment in his career and the advancement of AI technology. It represents the intersection of research and practical application in the field of AI.

💡Deep Learning

Deep Learning is a subfield of machine learning that focuses on neural networks with many layers, capable of learning and improving on tasks through large amounts of data. Ng's specialization in deep learning is a central theme in the video, as he discusses the foundational concepts and the impact of deep learning on various industries and research.

💡AI Fund

The AI Fund is an investment project that aims to support and develop AI startups. Andrew Ng's role in the AI Fund is mentioned in the script as part of his efforts to foster innovation in AI and contribute to the growth of the technology sector.


Automation refers to the use of technology to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. In the script, Ng discusses the theme of automation in the context of his early fascination with programming and how it has been central to his work in AI, including the automation of educational processes through online platforms like Coursera.

💡Neural Networks

Neural networks are computing systems inspired by the human brain that are used in deep learning to process complex data. Ng's early interest in neural networks, as mentioned in the script, laid the foundation for his future work and contributions to the field of AI.

💡MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

MOOCs are free online courses available to a large number of students globally. The script discusses how Ng's efforts to automate the educational process through MOOCs have had a significant impact on the accessibility of education, allowing millions to learn about machine learning and other subjects.

💡STEM Education

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is a educational approach that focuses on these four areas, considered crucial for success in the modern workforce. Ng's work in advancing robotics and STEM education is mentioned in the script, highlighting his commitment to fostering the next generation of innovators.


Bitcoin is the first decentralized cryptocurrency, which the script mentions in the context of the history of money and its potential to redefine the nature of currency. While not directly related to AI, it is part of the broader technological and financial innovation discussion in the podcast.

💡Data Science

Data Science involves using scientific methods, processes, and algorithms to extract knowledge and insights from data. In the script, Ng talks about the rise of data science and its relevance to professionals in various fields, emphasizing how it can be a gateway to programming and software development for those who may not have initially considered these career paths.


Andrew Ng's impact as an educator, researcher, and leader in AI through co-founding Coursera and Google Brain, and launching deep learning AI, landing AI, and the AI fund.

Ng's early inspirations in computer science and machine learning, starting from learning to code at a young age and being fascinated by expert systems and neural networks.

The inception of the idea to automate education through massive open online courses (MOOCs), leading to the creation of Coursera.

Ng's approach to teaching, focusing on what's best for learners and the principles that guided the development of Coursera.

The realization that the interest in AI is much larger than initially imagined, with millions of people globally interested in machine learning.

Ng's experiences filming course content, including the late-night recording sessions that contributed to Coursera's early success.

The importance of foundational understanding in machine learning and the approach to teaching complex concepts like gradient descent.

Ng's thoughts on the future of AI development, including the potential for AI to become as essential as literacy.

The potential for data science and machine learning to be a gateway into programming for professionals in various fields.

Ng's preference for using a whiteboard for teaching complex mathematical concepts and the simplicity it offers in understanding.

Challenges and breakthroughs in Ng's early work with Peter Abbeel on reinforcement learning to fly helicopters.

Ng's conviction in the importance of scaling up neural networks for improved performance, which was controversial at the time.

The evolution of deep learning and the transition from a focus on unsupervised learning to the current dominance of supervised learning.

Ng's reflections on the practical applications of reinforcement learning and its current status in real-world deployments.

The role of the AI Fund in creating new AI startups from scratch and the importance of customer focus and social good.

Ng's advice for individuals looking to start a career in deep learning or AI, emphasizing the importance of starting small and building up.

The potential for AI to transform industries beyond software and technology, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare.

Challenges in deploying machine learning systems in real-world settings and the importance of software engineering in AI projects.

Ng's perspective on the future development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and the importance of focusing on current societal impacts of AI.