National Inventor Hall of Fame Acceptance Remarks

September 22, 2002 by Ray Kurzweil

The National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) inducted Ray Kurzweil on Sept. 21, 2002. Sponsored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Hewlett-Packard, the ceremony recognized Kurzweil for the Kurzweil Reading Machine and a lifetime of invention, including the first “omni-font” optical character recognition (OCR), the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first full text-to-speech synthesizer, the first realistic-sounding electronic music synthesizer, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition.

Ray Kurzweil at National Inventors Hall of Fame

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 and a profound honor for me to be inducted into the Inventor Hall of Fame. I would like to express my deep appreciation to my wife, Sonya, who has supported all of my strange ideas for the past three decades; my children, Ethan and Amy, who have inspired me and who will inherit the remarkable world that lies ahead; my partner, Aaron Kleiner, with whom I’ve collaborated through thirty years and nine companies; and all of the many brilliant and devoted scientists, engineers, and business professionals who have contributed in every possible way to my being here this evening.