What if none of us goes for the blonde?

Next week I’ll be starting a six-week course on game theory, provided by Stanford University. Thanks to the wonders of the modern age it won’t cost me a penny and I won’t have to travel to California to take part. (Even though I’ve never considered travelling to California to be particularly onerous, I do have a few commitments on this side of the ocean.) You can do it too, if you want.

The course is part of a collaboration called Coursera, which is offering free courses from the University of Michigan, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.

It works much like a regular university course, only online. There are short (eight to 15 minute) video lectures, ungraded review quizzes, as well as graded problem sets and a final exam. Because it’s online it’s necessarily a bit more asynchronous than an in-person course would be, so you can watch the lectures and do the coursework largely to your own schedule.

The full list of available and upcoming courses is at www.coursera.org. Among the more interesting sounding subjects are natural language processing, computer vision and cryptography. There are other courses in development, including computer science 101 if you find you haven’t got the background for the more advanced subjects.

It’s not all computer science and mathematics. Two of the upcoming courses are anatomy and making green buildings.

Enrollment looks to still be open for just about all of the courses and, like I said, they’re free.

I chose game theory because I’ve had it at or near the top of my mental “must learn about these subjects” list for a while. It’s a branch of mathematics that deals with strategic interactions. It’s not just what you would usually think of as games, like chess and blackjack, although those are certainly part of the subject. It also deals with lots of interactions in politics and business, which can be thought of as “games” with their own (bizarre) rules and strategies. Also, as memorably relayed by Russell Crowe, it deals with the subject of how to pick up women in bars.

The most famous topic in game theory is probably the prisoners’ dilemma, which poses the question, “How can I successfully screw over my friend in order to get away with a crime?” So obviously the practical applications of the subject are appealing.