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Michael Littman’s CS Music Videos Go Viral, Receive 50,000+ Views

“So awesome!” writes one enthusiastic YouTube commenter.

“Way too much fun for machine learning,” adds another.

For the past several years, Brown University Department of Computer Science professor Michael Littman has been extending a family tradition of writing spoof songs by making music videos to reinforce concepts taught in his classes.

“I was always a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic,” Michael says, “His gift for wordplay and ear for rhythm are unmatched.” While teaching a class on artificial intelligence back in 2001, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” provided Littman with inspiration to summarize class topics (“XOR, learning rate, squash the sum and integrate”) and the string of videos began.

They’re rapidly becoming a viral phenomenon. One frequently-retweeted video features Michael, professor Charles Isbell of Georgia Tech, and a Georgia Tech vocal group. It’s based on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and focuses on the problem of overfitting in machine learning. It’s available here, and is unique in that it was made with the help of a video editor. “Most of my songs have been weekend hacks with just me, Garage Band, iMovie, and Keynote,” Michael explains.

Another video (available here), for CS 8, spoofs the Queen song “Flash” and teaches about the programming language Scratch. It features the undergraduate teaching assistants from the class and a cameo from Michael. Neither of them are as popular as his “The Sorter” video, which has received 54, 225 views and is still climbing.

“Most of what I know about English grammar and the U.S. Constitution comes from watching ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ songs as a kid,” Michael says. “The experience taught me that some concepts stick better if they’re put to music. Why not computer science?”

The full collection of videos can be found here.Take a look, share them with friends, and as another commenter says, “Let your geek fly!”