Factor in accelerating tech progress, Kurzweil advises Science Talent Search award winners

March 12, 2002 | Source: KurzweilAI

The Intel Science Talent Search (STS) has announced the winners.

Ryan Patterson, 18, of Central High School in Grand Junction, Colo., won first place and the $100,000 Intel Science Talent Search scholarship for his project, “The American Sign Language Translator,” a glove that converts American Sign Language to written text on a portable display.
Jacob Licht, 17, of West Hartford High School in West Hartford, Conn., won the second place prize of a $75,000 scholarship for his mathematics project, “Rainbow Ramsey Theory: Rainbow Arithmetic Progressions and Anti-Ramsey Results.” Ramsey’s theory states that patterns must exist within disorder by looking for monochromatic sets.

Traditionally, one former winner gives a keynote address at the dinner. This year, Ray Kurzweil was the Distinguished Alumni Speaker at the awards banquet. His 1965 science project related to both of these awards: a program that analyzed the patterns in musical compositions by famous composers and then composed original new melodies in a similar style. Kurzweil went on to invent the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind and other inventions to enhance human abilities based on pattern recognition.

“It is gratifying to me to see that an inventor, Ryan Patterson (whom I sat with at dinner), was selected as the first-place winner,” said Kurzweil. “His project is a very innovative use of pattern recognition, one that could ultimately be of great value in establishing a bridge of communication between sign language and the non signing public. However, all of the projects of the winners that I had the opportunity to explore with the students last Friday are extremely impressive. These young men and women are already making some important contributions to the world of science and technology.”

Kurzweil told the forty national winners that “having been a winner myself had been helpful in terms of developing confidence in my ideas, and also in terms of attracting practical support, such as a scholarship to MIT. However, confidence is ultimately internal, and public recognition is secondary to the deep satisfaction of developing new knowledge, particularly knowledge that can benefit people’s lives. That, anyway, has been my primary motivation as an inventor.”

He encouraged the students to “factor in the ever-accelerating pace of technological progress into your science plans. The world will be a very different place when you finish a project than when you embark on it. This is particularly true of technology projects in which the new capabilities you’re developing will need to make a contribution to a world which will have a different infrastructure, market needs, and enabling forces than the world that you start out with.

“It’s a good idea not to specialize too narrowly, but to learn the terminology and methods of different scientific disciplines. Most serious scientific and technological endeavors are multidisciplinary. The most creative results often come from applying the methods that are traditional in one field to the unsolved problems of another.”

The forty winners come to Washington each year to demonstrate their projects in an exhibition open to the public and to compete for the top prizes. They also met with President Bush at the White House. Five of the former winners of the Intel (formerly Westinghouse) Science Talent Search went on to win Nobel Prizes. Three have won National Medals of Science. Kurzweil is the only former winner to have received the National Medal of Technology.

The STS is America’s oldest and most prestigious science competition and is often considered the “junior Nobel Prize.”