I spent a weekend with Amazon's free AI courses, and highly recommend you do too

Want to learn more about AI but don't know where to start? Check out these free AI training courses from AWS. There's something here for everyone, from beginners to more advanced, and it won't cost you anything (but time).
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
rainbow emanating from laptop
John Lamb/Getty Images

This article almost didn't get written. I spent most of the weekend falling down a rabbit hole. It was a good rabbit hole. It was a fascinating rabbit hole. But it was not conducive to writing an article.

Also: I took this free AI course for developers in one weekend and highly recommend it

This is what happens when I'm given an all-you-can-eat buffet of really cool and really interesting material to learn and watch. Learning spikes. Productivity tanks.

I'm talking about Amazon's large array of free AI-related courses. After I wrote my article about free OpenAI and DeepLearning courses last month, Amazon approached me to say that it, too, has a library of free AI training.

I was pointed to ten resources it offers. Some, like the Generative AI Foundations playlist, contain multiple learning opportunities. In fact, it's the Generative AI Foundations series that occupied most of my time this weekend.

This deep dive delivers seven hours of video, with topics ranging from how to prepare for creating a foundation model to prompt engineering, prompt tuning, pre-training a new model, preparing data and training at scale, and how to incorporate human feedback into the model and deploy your own foundational model.

Also: How to create your own custom chatbots using ChatGPT

It was good. I spent most of the time with a small, warm, cozy dog on my lap. No writing got done. And that's why I'm here now, late at night before this piece is due, scrambling to get this into my editors' queue before the sun comes up.

Amazon has course offerings for technical and non-technical audiences. For most of these, you'll need to sign into Amazon's AWS Skill Builder site. You can use your AWS account, or even sign in using your consumer Amazon account. That's what I did.

Let's take a look.

Free AI courses for non-technical learners

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Unlike the DeepLearning stuff I previously spotlighted which was aimed primarily at programmers, Amazon provides a great overview for managers, decision-makers, and the AI-curious.

  • Introduction to Artificial Intelligence: This is a brief introductory course that explains what AI is, why it's important, and how it relates to machine learning and deep learning.
  • Introduction to Machine Learning - Art of the Possible: This is a quick, helpful course that explains the basics of machine learning and how to help evaluate the benefits and risks associated with adopting ML in various business cases. It will be an hour or so well spent.
  • Introduction to Generative AI - Art of the Possible: This distinguishes generative AI from machine learning and provides an introduction to generative AI, with details on use cases, risks and benefits.
  • Generative AI for Executives: This is a collection of free, brief, and easy-to-follow videos to help C-suite executives understand how generative AI can help address their business challenges and drive business growth. Each course is only a couple of minutes, and if you're willing to give up less than half an hour of your day, you'll come out knowing a lot more about what all the fuss is about.

Beginner AI resources for developers and other techies

These resources are suitable for folks starting out with AI. You'll need some quality tech and coding skills to understand what's going on here, but you can get a lot out of it even if you're completely new to AI.

  • AWS DeepRacerThis isn't a course as much as it's a hands-on learning lab. It's also free, but only to a point. Once you sign up, you get 10 hours and up to 30 days to use those 10 hours. After that, you'll need to sign up for a subscription. That said, you'll be able to squeeze a lot of learning from those 10 hours. DeepRacer lets you go hands-on with machine learning through a cloud-based 3D racing simulator, a fully autonomous 1/18th scale race car driven by reinforcement learning, and a global racing league. It's cool.
  • Amazon's Machine Learning UniversityThis is a big win for learning. Amazon offers anyone, anywhere the opportunity to access the same machine learning courses used to train Amazon's own developers on machine learning. MLU provides a free, comprehensive self-service pathway to understanding the foundations of machine learning.
  • Amazon CodeWhisperer – Getting Started: This is a free, self-paced digital course introducing learners to Amazon CodeWhisperer, an AI coding companion designed to help developers get more done, faster. Learners are taught its capabilities, how to set it up, and how to begin using it in their programming language of choice. I didn't know too much about CodeWhisperer before I took this course, but I found out (a) it works with PHP and PhpStorm, my development language and IDE, and (b) it's free for individual use. This has all the signs of becoming a future rabbit hole.
  • Amazon Bedrock -- Getting StartedThis is a free self-paced digital course introducing learners to Amazon's service for building generative AI applications. This one-hour course will introduce developers and technical audiences to Amazon Bedrock's benefits, features, use cases, and technical concepts. Bedrock was once an Amazon-only internal tool that's now available to anyone, so it's definitely worth spending the hour learning what it can do.

Intermediate AI resources for developers and other techies

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Now, we move on to what Amazon considers intermediate-level courses. There's a lot here, so let's dig in.

  • Twitch Series: AWS Power Hour Introduction to Machine Learning for Developers: This is a recording of a Twitch-based learning chat series. It helps you learn the foundations of machine learning and get a practical perspective on what developers really need to know to get started with machine learning. It also teaches how you can leverage the power of machine learning and deep learning to make your applications more intelligent.
  • Generative AI Foundations on AWS: This is the course I describe above, the one that ate my Saturday. It's a free, on-demand technical deep-dive course designed for technologists already familiar with AI modeling. The course includes conceptual fundamentals, practical advice, and hands-on guidance to pre-train, fine-tune, and deploy state-of-the-art foundation models on AWS and beyond
  • Generative AI with Large Language Models: Now we come full circle. This is a hands-on course that AWS jointly developed with DeepLearning.AI and Andrew Ng, a pioneer in machine learning and education. Those are the folks who created the course I spotlighted in my last free AI learning roundup. This is a three-week course that prepares data scientists and engineers to become experts in selecting, training, fine-tuning, and deploying large language models (LLMs) for real-world applications.

Go ahead. Learn something - for free!

While Amazon and other providers do offer a wealth of paid learning programs, if you dig a little (or just read my articles), you can find a huge amount of free resources to get you started and up your game.

Just remember to ask Alexa to set a couple of alarms or timers before you hit Enroll and start learning. Otherwise, you may lose track of time (in a good way).

Also: How I made this great-looking table in Excel

So what about you? Have you taken these or other Amazon courses? Did you use any of the learning resources I spotlighted last month? Let us know in the comments below.

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