Tech | October 27, 2017 9:00 am

This High Schooler Is Shaking Up the World of Artificial Intelligence

Kevin Frans, a senior, published a paper that offers a new approach to helping robots learn tasks.

Elon Musk and others founded the nonprofit research lab OpenAI nearly two years ago. Since then, it has published dozens of research papers. One posted online on Thursday is a little different than the rest though. That’s because this one has a lead author who is still in high school.

Kevin Frans, a senior in high school, is currently working on college applications. He trained his first neural net, which is a system that recognizes your voice or face, two years ago, reports Wiredwhen he was only 15. Since then, he has been reading research papers and building pieces of what they described. He told Wired that he likes how you can get computers to do things “that previously you would think were impossible.”

Frans found OpenAI after taking on one of the technology lab’s list of problems in need of new ideas, writes Wired. He made progress, but eventually hit a wall, so emailed OpenAI researcher John Schulman for advice. Schulman checked out Frans’s blog after some back and forth and said that he “didn’t expect from those emails that he was in high school,” writes Wired. 

Frans later become the only intern at OpenAI without a degree or studying in grad school. He worked on a specific question: How can machines tap what they’ve previously learned to solve new problems? Humans do this easily, but machine-learning software generally has to repeat its length training process for every new problem, even if the issue has common elements to another problem.

The paper Frans published on OpenAI reports on the progress of that problem. He developed an algorithm that helped virtual legged robots “learn which limb movements could be applied to multiple tasks, such as walking and crawling,” reports Wired. It helped virtual robots adapt to new tasks.

Schulman told Wired, “Kevin’s paper provides a fresh approach to the problem, and some results that go beyond anything demonstrated previously.”

Frans has high hopes for the future of AI, but also high hopes for the next generation of AI experts. He has a younger brother, who at only seven-years-old, is interested in coding.

“Maybe when he’s older I can help him,” Frans said, according to Wired.

Check out the video below of Frans and some of his work.