Forward from the 'Deep Learning for Coders' Book

To celebrate the release of fast.ai’s new course, book, and software libraries, we’re making available the foreword that Soumith Chintala (the co-creator of PyTorch) wrote for the book. To learn more, see the release announcement.

In a very short time, deep learning has become a widely useful technique, solving and automating problems in computer vision, robotics, healthcare, physics, biology, and beyond. One of the delightful things about deep learning is its relative simplicity. Powerful deep learning software has been built to make getting started fast and easy. In a few weeks, you can understand the basics and get comfortable with the techniques.

This opens up a world of creativity. You start applying it to problems that have data at hand, and you feel wonderful seeing a machine solving problems for you. However, you slowly feel yourself getting closer to a giant barrier. You built a deep learning model, but it doesn’t work as well as you had hoped. This is when you enter the next stage, finding and reading state-of-the-art research on deep learning.

However, there’s a voluminous body of knowledge on deep learning, with three decades of theory, techniques, and tooling behind it. As you read through some of this research, you realize that humans can explain simple things in really complicated ways. Scientists use words and mathematical notation in these papers that appear foreign, and no textbook or blog post seems to cover the necessary background that you need in accessible ways. Engineers and programmers assume you know how GPUs work and have knowledge about obscure tools.

This is when you wish you had a mentor or a friend that you could talk to. Someone who was in your shoes before, who knows the tooling and the math–someone who could guide you through the best research, state-of-the-art techniques, and advanced engineering, and make it comically simple. I was in your shoes a decade ago, when I was breaking into the field of machine learning. For years, I struggled to understand papers that had a little bit of math in them. I had good mentors around me, which helped me greatly, but it took me many years to get comfortable with machine learning and deep learning. That motivated me to coauthor PyTorch, a software framework to make deep learning accessible.

Jeremy Howard and Sylvain Gugger were also in your shoes. They wanted to learn and apply deep learning, without any previous formal training as ML scientists or engineers. Like me, Jeremy and Sylvain learned gradually over the years and eventually became experts and leaders. But unlike me, Jeremy and Sylvain selflessly put a huge amount of energy into making sure others don’t have to take the painful path that they took. They built a great course called fast.ai that makes cutting-edge deep learning techniques accessible to people who know basic programming. It has graduated hundreds of thousands of eager learners who have become great practitioners.

In this book, which is another tireless product, Jeremy and Sylvain have constructed a magical journey through deep learning. They use simple words and introduce every concept. They bring cutting-edge deep learning and state-of-the-art research to you, yet make it very accessible.

You are taken through the latest advances in computer vision, dive into natural language processing, and learn some foundational math in a 500-page delightful ride. And the ride doesn’t stop at fun, as they take you through shipping your ideas to production. You can treat the fast.ai community, thousands of practitioners online, as your extended family, where individuals like you are available to talk and ideate small and big solutions, whatever the problem may be.

I am very glad you’ve found this book, and I hope it inspires you to put deep learning to good use, regardless of the nature of the problem.

Soumith Chintala, co-creator of PyTorch