National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors: Brochure Statement
September 22, 2002
On Sept. 21, 2002, Ray Kurzweil presented an award to Ezra Rapoport at the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors ceremony. Rapoport, an 18-year-old inventor and part-time employee of KurzweilAI.net, was recognized for his invention of a speech-compression method that transmits speech clearly and reliably over phone lines using only 3 Kbps, allowing for 20 conversations over a single phone line.
How are humans different from other animals?
The answer is: we invent. And I mean invention here in the broadest sense, to include all human knowledge: language, music, art, and, of course, technology.
Other animals use tools, but these tools don’t evolve. Only humans have a knowledge base that we pass from generation to generation, knowledge that is growing in size at an exponential rate.
Evolution works through indirection. It creates an innovation, and that capability is then used to create the next stage. For example, evolution created homo sapiens, and our species then ushered in the next stage, which is human technology. Technology is, therefore, a continuation of biological evolution carried on through other means. Technology is evolution’s cutting edge.
We see the same phenomenon in technology itself: one stage of invention is used to create the next. We use computers, for example, to design more powerful computers.
Hence the pace of progress accelerates. According to my models, we’re doubling the paradigm-shift rate every decade. So the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress.
What is unique about the human species is precisely this: we expand our horizons. We’ve more than doubled our life expectancy in the last 200 years. We didn’t stay on the ground, or even on our planet. We are now expanding beyond the limitations of our biology.
It is, therefore, a special pleasure for me to take part in honoring our next generation of innovators.
My advice to today’s young and aspiring inventors is this.
Obtain a strong foundation in mathematics, because math is the language of technology.
Learn to collaborate with others, because inventing today is necessarily an interdisciplinary process.
And finally, find your passion, because it takes passion to create knowledge of lasting value.