Since its founding by Elon Musk and others nearly two years ago, nonprofit research lab OpenAI has published dozens of research papers. One posted online Thursday is different: Its lead author is still in high school.
The wunderkind is Kevin Frans, a senior currently working on his college applications. He trained his first neural net—the kind of system that tech giants use to recognize your voice or face—two years ago, at the age of 15. Inspired by reports of software mastering Atari games and the board game Go, he has since been reading research papers and building pieces of what they described. “I like how you can get computers to do things that previously you would think were impossible,” Frans says, flashing his ready smile. One of his creations is an interactive webpage that automatically colors in line drawings, in the style of manga comics.
Frans landed at OpenAI after taking on one of the lab’s list of problems in need of new ideas. He made progress, but got stuck and emailed OpenAI researcher John Schulman for advice. After some back and forth on the matter of trust region policy optimization, Schulman checked out Frans’s blog and got a surprise. “I didn’t expect from those emails that he was in high school,” he says.