A bet with his fellow club members pushed a high school student in West Virginia to build an AI that can rap. Robert Barrat from Jefferson High School, image from Jefferson County Schools website.
In a discussion about the possibility that artificial intelligence could perform certain tasks better than humans, Robbie Barrat insisted to his friends that it was possible. The high school students, members of a programming club, then betted Barrat that he would not be able to prove his theory by the club’s following meeting. That was the beginning of a journey that took Barrat to learning more about programming than he thought possible.
Barrat confessed he realized at the end of the meeting that day, he had only 7 days to produce a neural network that would rap. Luckily, when he met his friends seven days later, he had succeeded in his endeavor. Barrat might be presented as that of a genius; but with the growing interest in AI in the world of technology, it is becoming easier and easier for anyone to learn coding and anything related to developing a program than would mimic human behaviors almost to perfection. Some of the biggest companies in the tech world already offer platforms for students like Barrat to develop their programming skills. Based on some statistics, someone with Barrat’s skills and more should expect to have an income of a few millions of dollars when hired.
According to Barrat, the secret to building an AI is coding using a software that can be manipulated easily aka an open-source. He must be right given the enthusiasm tech giants are showing about open-source coding. Programs like Made with Code by Google, TechPrep by Facebook or Hour of Code by Microsoft are flourishing to offer kids of all ages the proper guidance into the world of programming and eventually AI programming. Those efforts are justified by the discrepancy between the number of computer science graduates every year and the number of programming jobs available on the market (ten-fold the number of graduates in 2015). In addition, only 66% of those who get hired in the field remain in it. There is no doubt that the industry is in need of new talents.
Ironically, at 17 years old, Barrat is not part of any tech program of sort. The teenager is growing up on a farm far from all tech hot spots. Yet, he managed to teach himself (through textbooks) coding and ways to use an open-source to design an artificial intelligence. He explains that his computer is equipped with LINUX which is an open-source operating system favored in coding due to its flexibility. In addition, Barrat exploits PyBrain to train his AI which is his very first one. However, the teenager has been experimenting with neural networks for some times: he built one such network that could play the game Tic-Tac-Toe. Barrat had enough experience to write all the codes for his rapping AI in one afternoon. He then spent the rest of the week perfecting his art.
Barrat’s AI might be rapping now from learning six thousand Kanye West lines, but it took Barrat to learn new tricks to get the AI to that level. Barrat explains that at first, the robot just mixed the lyrics, but now it can write its own lyrics inspired by those of Kanye. Beside proving something to his friends, the teenager also learned that figuring out the errors inside the neural network is not an easy feat. He believes that if technology can come up with a way to understand the mindset of artificial intelligence, it will open the doors to a new world in technology.
While nobody can argue that the kid is bright, it is not sure yet whether he will embrace coding as a profession or any tech job for that matter. For now, Barrat stays faithful to his love of pure mathematics and prefer to classify his tech projects as hobbies. Meanwhile, his achievement with this artificial intelligence landed him 2 full scholarships from the University of Arizona and the University of West Virginia.
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