Netizens angry after paying for low-quality online courses claiming to teach about AI
Published: Mar 05, 2024 06:13 AM

AI Photo: VCG

AI Photo: VCG

Online courses teaching people about artificial intelligence (AI) are growing in popularity, as people feel the need to educate themselves about the new tech craze, but many users have found them to be of limited use and have been demanding refunds.

Even though it is still a niche market, a lot of people paid for one course costing 99 yuan ($13.73) that was offered on multiple social media platforms. 

The price was affordable enough for numerous online users to sign up. More than 20,000 copies of the learning package were sold in one day, Chinese news agency The Paper reported on Thursday, creating revenue of more than 2 million yuan. Similar online courses range from 0.1 yuan to 99 yuan.

But Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI, cautioned on February 16 that AI technology is offering access only "to a limited number of creators."

OpenAI's Sora generative AI model has sparked a craze for learning about it among Chinese netizens, but some users who have signed up for the courses have expressed negative opinions, complaining that the content is too shallow and saying that they felt cheated.

"The reason I signed up for the course was partly out of curiosity, and partly because of the promotional headlines on the course posters, such as 'filling the AI information gap,'" Meng Ke, a university student, told the Global Times on Monday. Meng said the new technology has created a sense of anxiety, in that people feel they should know how it works.

"The sessions are just a pack of online documents shared among the learners. The documents include an introduction to Sora, an AI-generated video, and some social media articles explaining this technology. You can find them on the internet on your own," Meng said.

"This isn't the first AI-related teaching trick online. And in the end, it's just making a profit from people's anxiety and the information gap," Shanghai-based lawyer Liu Ying told the Global Times.

The "gold rush" of selling courses was already in full swing before the introduction of Sora. In mid-February, news about a social media influencer who earned millions by selling AI courses was the top trending topic on Sina Weibo. 

According to China's social media data analytic tool Feigua Data, Li Yizhou, a career influencer with tens of millions of followers, sold approximately 250,000 sets of AI learning courses in 2023, generating sales of about 50 million yuan. 

However, his course then sparked controversy due to its excessive claims and low quality, leading to a wave of refund demands, as well as copyright disputes with numerous developers who demanded compensation and an apology. Li was later jokingly dubbed by netizens "the most adept entrepreneur in China at using ChatGPT to make money."

"After spending two days completing over 30 AI lessons, the most immediate feeling is the desire to request a refund," said a student on Sina Weibo.

"The course can roughly be divided into two parts: the first introduces you to AI and teaches you how to use ChatGPT, while the latter part delves into practical applications of ChatGPT, such as how to write resumes and simulate interviews. These topics are readily available elsewhere," one student told China's Securities Times.

"These courses may merely pile up concepts and terms, introduce operational skills, and fail to delve into the core principles and practical applications of AI technology," Zhu Keli, executive director of the China Information Association and founding dean of the China Institute of New Economy, told Seashell Finance.

In addition to the course-selling controversies, a series of false advertisements and claims have also emerged regarding Sora.

On February 18, a social media article titled One of the Shocking Inventors of Sora, Genius Youth Xie Saining Graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University went viral on the internet, garnering over 100,000 views on WeChat. But Xie then responded on social media, denying any involvement in the invention of Sora and stating that he has "no relation whatsoever" with it.