Robbie Barrat’s revolutionary research relating to artificial intelligence (AI) has earned him numerous plaudits, an art exhibition in France, as well as a place in a new documentary about high school science fairs.

Barrat, 19, twice won the West Virginia State Science Fair—while a student at Jefferson High School. His work focuses on creating neural networks that can generate art.

During a recent appearance on The Today Show, Barrat discussed a project he undertook for his senior science fair project. He designed a computer program—specifically, an artificial intelligence neural network—which examined lyrics from rapper Kayne West’s songs and then generated its raps, with a style similar to West.

These neural networks, as explained by Barrat, continually review examples of a given musician, in this case West, and learn from the specific stylistic elements. Over time, the AI program is able to replicate “the flow,” as Barrat calls it, and produce a new rap.

“It’s what was interesting,” when asked why he chose this project.  “It’s fun.”

Barrat, who is currently working as a researcher at Stanford University, hasn’t limited his work to just music. He spent part of January in France for a joint art exhibition at L’Avant Galerie Vossen—with French painter Ronan Barrot.

According to a press release from the gallery, 450 paintings of ‘Skulls,’ which Barrot has painted over the last few years, have been digitally scanned so that Barrat could train a neural network to create new images of ‘Skulls’ from the 450 works.”

The network literally learns from the examples given, which become data sets, and strives to improve its replication of the style of the data sets. This repetition acts just as continual practice by an art student would, as well as the studying of works by other artists.

Fostering Interest

His advances in the world of AI led Barrat to be included in a film from National Geographic called Science Fair. The documentary follows nine students from different parts of the world as they seek to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Barrat credits Shane Price, a science teacher at Jefferson, with fostering his interest in participating in science fairs of all levels.

“Mr. Price had a huge impact on me,” Barrat said in a press release issued by the Jefferson County Board of Education. “During my senior year, I was slacking off on getting my science fair project ready, and he really pushed me to get it together, and because of his encouragement, I was able to go to ISEF again. Obviously, I owe him a lot.”

Price recently indicated that Jefferson students seem to be aware of the film, as the school has pushed back the deadline to register for the science fair as there has been an uptick in interest. Science Fair won the audience award at both Sundance and SXSW.

Barrat grew up near Shenandoah Junction, and is the son of Robert Barrat, an attorney practicing in Martinsburg, and Anne Barrat, who taught at T.A. Lowery Elementary School.

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