Ray Kurzweil

July 11, 2009

Ray walked on stage, played a composition on an old upright piano, and then whispered to I’ve Got a Secret host Steve Allen “I built my own computer”.

“Well that’s impressive,” Steve Allen replied, “but what does that have to do with the piece you just played?” Ray then whispered the rest of his secret: “The computer composed the piece I just played.” During the yes or no questions, former Miss America Bess Myerson was stumped, but film star Henry Morgan, the second celebrity panelist, guessed Ray’s secret.

This high school project was Ray Kurzweil’s first endeavor in the field of “pattern recognition,” which Ray describes as “that part of the AI field where we teach computers to recognize abstract patterns, a capability that dominates human thinking.” Ray programmed his computer to analyze the patterns in musical compositions by famous composers and then compose original new melodies in a similar style. For the project, Ray won First Prize in the International Science Fair, and was one of the 40 Westinghouse Science Talent Search winners that got to meet President Lyndon Johnson in a White House award ceremony.

As a sophomore at MIT, Ray started and ran a business matching up high school kids with colleges using a computer program he had written. Named the Select College Consulting Program, Ray and his small company paid $1,000 an hour to rent time on the only computer in New England with enough memory to fit the database comprising 2 million facts on 3,000 colleges they had created. Kids, delighted with the colleges the program had suggested, sent appreciative letters. But a few parents were furious that the program had failed to recommend Harvard or other Ivy League schools. For the first time, Ray experienced the ability of computers to affect peoples’ lives. The company was sold to Harcourt, Brace & World, a New York publisher, for $100,000 plus royalties.

In 1974, Ray started his first major enterprise, Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. (KCP) to pursue his interest in pattern recognition, attacking the then classical and unsolved problem of teaching a computer to identify printed or typed characters regardless of typestyle and printing quality. Existing systems could only recognize certain special fonts (e.g., Courier, OCR A). Ray and his colleagues taught the computer how to extract the abstract qualities of letter shapes, defining what essential properties made, for example, all capital A’s different from all capital B’s.

Ray and his team created the first “omni-font” (i.e., any font) Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This new technology became a solution in search of a problem. A chance plane flight sitting next to a blind gentleman convinced Ray that the most exciting application of this new technology would be to create a machine that could read printed and typed documents out loud, thereby overcoming the reading handicap of blind and visually impaired individuals. This goal introduced new hurdles as there were no readily available flat bed scanners or speech synthesizers in 1974. So in addition to the omni-font OCR, Ray and his colleagues developed the first CCD flat-bed scanner and the first full text-to-speech synthesizer, and combined these three technologies into the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind.

Ray, along with leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, announced the Kurzweil Reading Machine at a press conference on January 13, 1976, which was covered by all of the networks and leading print publications. Walter Cronkite used it to deliver his signature sign-off “And that’s the way it was, January 13, 1976.”

Stevie Wonder happened to catch Ray demonstrating the Kurzweil Reading Machine on the Today Show, and dropped by Kurzweil Computer Products to pick up their first production unit. This led to a long-term friendship between the inventor and the musical star, which led to Ray Kurzweil’s subsequent innovations in computer-based music.

In 1978, Kurzweil Computer Products introduced a commercial version of the Kurzweil OCR, which was used by Lexis-Nexis to build their on-line legal and news information services. In 1980, Ray sold the company to Xerox which saw the scanning and OCR technology as providing a path back from the world of paper to the world of electronics. Ray continued as a consultant to this division of Xerox through 1995. Now, eighteen years after the sale to Xerox, the OCR originally developed by Ray Kurzweil and his team — now called Xerox TextBridge — still continues as a market leader.

In 1982, as he was showing Ray a new studio he had built in Los Angeles, Stevie Wonder lamented the state of affairs of musical instruments. On the one hand there was the world of acoustic instruments (e.g., piano, guitar, violin), which provided rich complex sounds, but were difficult to play, and suffered from a wide range of limitations. On the other hand, the world of computer-based instruments allowed advanced control techniques such as multi-track sequencing and layering, but was only capable of creating thin synthetic sounds.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” Stevie asked Ray, “if we could use the extraordinarily flexible computer-control methods on the beautiful sounds of acoustic instruments.” The result of this challenge was Ray’s 1982 founding of Kurzweil Music Systems with Stevie Wonder as musical advisor. In 1984, Kurzweil Music introduced the Kurzweil 250, the first computer-based instrument that could realistically recreate the musical response of the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. In A-B tests, musicians were unable to distinguish the Kurzweil 250 from a concert grand piano. With this technology, a teenager could play an entire orchestra or rock band in her bedroom.

Ray sold Kurzweil Music Systems to Young Chang, a large Korean musical instrument company, in 1990 and remained as an active consultant through 1994. The Kurzweil Music Systems division of Young Chang continues today as one of the market leaders in computer-based musical instruments, marketed in over forty countries.

Ray also started Kurzweil Applied Intelligence 1982 to develop computer-based speech recognition. The company introduced the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition system in 1987. The company also combined its speech recognition technology with expert systems for the creation of medical reports. Its Kurzweil VoiceMed products (now called Kurzweil Clinical Reporter) allows doctors to create medical reports by talking with their computers. The Kurzweil systems are now used in ten percent of the emergency rooms in the United States, and in many other medical specialties.

Kurzweil Applied Intelligence was sold to Lernout & Hauspie (“L&H”) in 1997. Shortly after this sale, Microsoft entered into a strategic alliance with the dictation division of L&H (formerly Kurzweil Applied Intelligence) to share technology in the speech field (which included a substantial investment by Microsoft).

Ray started his fourth company, Kurzweil Educational Systems in 1996. This company quickly became dominant in the print-to-speech reading technology field. In August of 1998, Ray and his colleagues received the first $150,000 SAP / Stevie Wonder “Product of the Year” Vision Award for the Kurzweil 1000 Reading System. The Kurzweil Foundation, which is Ray’s private foundation, will use these funds to provide scholarships to worthy blind students.

A noteworthy aspect of Ray Kurzweil’s unique track record is that all four of the companies he founded, built, and sold not only created entirely new technologies and new markets, but still continue today as leaders in the same markets that they pioneered.

One of Ray’s latest ventures is FATKAT (Financial Accelerating Transactions — Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies) which is applying evolutionary algorithms to stock market decisions with the goal of creating an artificially intelligent financial analyst. Another is Medical Learning Company which is creating a simulated patient for doctor education and as an educational game.

In 1990, Ray’s first book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, was published by the MIT Press, and received the award for the Most Outstanding Computer Science Book of 1990 by the Association of American Publishers. The predictions in this book, which Ray wrote in 1988, included the emergence of the World Wide Web, the taking of the world chess championship by a computer by 1998, and the dominance of intelligent weapons in warfare. These and many other of Ray’s predictions have proven to be very accurate.

In 1993, Ray’s second book, The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life, How to Eliminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer, was published by Crown Publishers. The book stemmed from Ray’s successfully curing himself of type II Diabetes through a nutritional program he had researched himself.

Now as we move into the new Millenium, Ray’s latest best selling book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Viking hard cover, Penguin paperback) extends Ray’s prophetic blueprint to what George Gilder calls the “metamorphic moment” when computers exceed the full range of human intelligence, which he sees as only a few decades away. This book has been published in 9 languages and achieved the #1 best selling book on Amazon in the categories of “Science” and “Artificial Intelligence.”

Ray Kurzweil received the 2001 Lemelson-MIT Prize. This $500,000 prize is the world’s largest in invention and innovation. He also received the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony. He has also received scores of other national and international awards. He is the recipient of the 1994 Dickson Prize, which is Carnegie Mellon University’s top science prize, given to one individual each year. Since its inception in 1970, only one other person has received the Dickson Prize in the field of computer science. In 1990, Ray was voted Engineer of the Year by the over one million readers of Design News Magazine and received their third annual Technology Achievement Award. In 1988, he was named Inventor of the Year by MIT and the Boston Museum of Science. He was named Honorary Chairman for Innovation of the White House Conference on Small Business by President Reagan in 1986 and has received honors from Presidents Clinton, Reagan and Johnson. He has received ten honorary Doctorates in science, engineering, music and humane letters from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hofstra University and other leading colleges and universities. He has received the Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machine. He has received seven national and international film awards including the CINE Golden Eagle Award and the Gold Medal for Science Education from the International Film and TV Festival of New York.

See essays by this author:
The Library Journal | The virtual book revisited
The Matrix loses its way: Reflections on The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded
A Dialog with the New York Times on the Technological Implications of the September 11 Disaster
A Dialogue on Reincarnation
A Formula for Intelligence: The Recursive Paradigm
A myopic perspective on AI
A Wager on the Turing Test: The Rules
A Wager on the Turing Test: Why I Think I Will Win
Accelerated Living
Accelerating Intelligence: Where Will Technology Lead Us?
Acceptance Remarks For American Foundation for the Blind Migel Award
After the Singularity: A Talk with Ray Kurzweil
Another Formula for Intelligence: The Neural Net Paradigm
Are We Becoming an Endangered Species? Technology and Ethics in the Twenty First Century
Arguments for a Green AND Gray Future
Arthur C. Clarke Offers His Vision of the Future
Dear PC: R.I.P.
Deep Fritz Draws: Are Humans Getting Smarter, or Are Computers Getting Stupider?
Dialogue between Ray Kurzweil, Eric Drexler, and Robert Bradbury
Essay collection | The Ray Kurzweil Reader
Essay for E-School News
Exponential Growth an Illusion?: Response to Ilkka Tuomi
Foreword to 'Dark Ages II' (book by Bryan Bergeron)
Foreword to 'The Eternal E-Customer' (book by Bryan Bergeron)
Foreword to Electronic Reporting in the Digital Medical Enterprise
Foreword to Virtual Humans
Gelernter, Kurzweil debate machine consciousness
How Can We Possibly Tell If It's Conscious?
How Can We Possibly Tell If It's Conscious?
How my predictions are faring -- an update by Ray Kurzweil
Human Body Version 2.0
Human Cloning is the Least Interesting Application of Cloning Technology
Human Cloning is the Least of It
In Response to
Intelligence, Computer and Human: A Discussion with Howard Gardner
Israel in the Age of Knowledge
Kenneth Jernigan’s Prophetic Vision:: Address to National Federation of the Blind Convention Banquet
Kurzweil responds to Edge challenge, advises Bush
Kurzweil responds: Don't underestimate the Singularity
Kurzweil vs. Dertouzos
Kurzweil’s Law (aka “the law of accelerating returns”)
Learning in the Age of Knowledge
Live Forever--Uploading The Human Brain...Closer Than You Think
Live Moderated Chat: Are We Spiritual Machines?
Lunch with Mikhail Gorbachev
Machine Intelligence: The First 80 Years
Max More and Ray Kurzweil on the Singularity
May the Smartest Machine Win: Warfare in the 21st Century
My Question for Edge: Who am I? What am I?
Nanotechnology Dangers and Defenses
National Inventor Hall of Fame Acceptance Remarks
One Half of An Argument
Online Chat with Ray Kurzweil and European Schoolnet
Our Bodies, Our Technologies: Ray Kurzweil's Cambridge Forum Lecture (Abridged)
Press ignores bias in study of multivitamins and prostate cancer
Promise And Peril
Ramona's Story
Ramona: Questions and Answers
Ray Kurzweil Q&A with Darwin Magazine
Ray Kurzweil responds to John Brockman's "The Edge" Annual Question of 2007
Ray Kurzweil Responds to Richard Eckersley
Ray Kurzweil's Dangerous Idea: The near-term inevitability of radical life extension and expansion
Raymond Kurzweil at ACM1
Reflections on S1m0ne
Reflections on the movie S1m0ne
Reinventing humanity: The future of human-machine intelligence
Remarks about Tod Machover In Presenting the 2003 Ray Kurzweil Award of Technology in Music
Remarks at The Celebration, A Gala to Celebrate the Groundbreaking of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind
Remarks on Accepting the American Composers Orchestra Award
Remarks on Accepting the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund on November 29, 2001
Reprogramming your Biochemistry for Immortality: An Interview with Ray Kurzweil by David Jay Brown
Researching Health and Well-Being at the Library
Response to 'The Singularity Is Always Near'
Response to Fortune Editors' Invitational
Response to Mitchell Kapor's "Why I Think I Will Win"
Response to Stephen Hawking
Review of Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us by Rodney Brooks
Sander Olson Interviews Ray Kurzweil
Singularity Chat with Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil
Singularity Math Trialogue
Singularity Q&A
Spielberg catches Kubrick's baton: a review of the film AI
Statement for Extropy Institute Vital Progress Summit
Technology in the 21st Century: an Imminent Intimate Merger
Testimony of Ray Kurzweil on the Societal Implications of Nanotechnology
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Appendix 1
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Appendix 2
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Appendix 3
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Appendix 4
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 10: The Second Fountain
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 11: The Kurzweil Challenge to Society
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 12: The Ten-Minute Guide to the 10% Solution
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 13: How to Eat Revisited
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 14
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 15: Ranking the Killers: How to Save a Million American Lives a Year
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 1: Aside from That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Did You Enjoy the Play?
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 2: What Does This Mean?
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 3: The Benefits
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 4: A Parable
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 5: Your Weight
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 6: How to Eat
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 7: How to Exercise
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 8: The Mind-Body Connection
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 9: The Kurzweil Challenge--Ten Easy Steps
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Glossary
The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life: Acknowledgments, Introduction, A Brief Medical History and Foreword
The 21st Century: a Confluence of Accelerating Revolutions
The Age of Knowledge
The Alcor Conference on Extreme Life Extension
The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine
The Drexler-Smalley debate on molecular assembly
The Economics of Innovation
The End of Handicaps, Part 1
The End of Handicaps, Part 2
The Future of Intelligent Technology and Its Impact on Disabilities
The Future of Libraries, Part 1: The Technology of the Book
The Future of Libraries, Part 2: The End of Books
The Future of Libraries, Part 3: The Virtual Library
The Future of Life
The Future of Music in the Age of Spiritual Machines
THE HUMAN MACHINE MERGER: ARE WE HEADED FOR THE MATRIX?
The Human Machine Merger: Why We Will Spend Most of Our Time in Virtual Reality in the Twenty-first Century
The Intelligent Universe
The Law of Accelerating Returns
The new era of health and medicine as an information technology is broader than individual genes
The Paradigms and Paradoxes of Intelligence, Part 1: Russell's Paradox
The Paradigms and Paradoxes of Intelligence, Part 2: The Church-Turing Thesis
The Paradigms and Paradoxes of Intelligence: Building a Brain
The Power of an Idea
The Singularity Is Near - Ray Kurzweil at Extro5 (Video)
The technology of Ramona
The technology of universal intelligence
The Virtual Library
The Virtual Thomas Edison
The Virtual Village
The Web Within Us: Minds and Machines Become One.
Top KurzweilAI.net News of 2001
Top KurzweilAI.net News of 2002
Tribute to Michael Dertouzos (1936 -- 2001)
Turing's Prophecy
Understanding the Accelerating Rate of Change
We Are Becoming Cyborgs
What Have We Learned a Year After NASDAQ Hit 5,000?
What the Future Will Bring
When Will HAL Understand What We Are Saying? Computer Speech Recognition and Understanding
Will My PC Be Smarter Than I Am?
Wolfram and Kurzweil Roundtable Discussion
See blog posts by this author:
Ask Ray | Thoughts on the consequences of the elimination of aging
A review of Her by Ray Kurzweil
A tour with Ray | Adventure in art and dance at the American Visionary Art Museum award gala honoring Ray Kurzweil
A tour with Ray | Sights and sounds of the world famous NAMM 2014 expo with music pioneer Ray Kurzweil
Ask Ray | The future of Moore’s law
Ask Ray | How to Create a Mind thought experiment
Ask Ray | A little thought experiment on cognitive functions
Ask Ray | An interesting article about body and mind
Ask Ray | Asimov's 'The Last Question'
Ask Ray | Computer-based intelligence will become equivalent to that of human intelligence
Ask Ray | Death can be erased if humanity makes the right moves
Ask Ray | Experiment to find out if we're being simulated
Ask Ray | Fermi Paradox and the Singularity
Ask Ray | Future battle for resource storage as a substrate for sentience
Ask Ray | How can I maintain my stream of personal identity?
Ask Ray | How can my consciousness survive indefinitely?
Ask Ray | How do you find the motivation to live forever?
Ask Ray | How do you gauge if strong AI is a few years away?
Ask Ray | How do you respond to Noam Chomsky's claim that 'Watson is not good AI'?
Ask Ray | Human and robot rights in the future
Ask Ray | My trip to Brussels, Zurich, Warsaw, and Vienna
Ask Ray | Oral nutritional supplementation decreases hospitalization length by 21% says report
Ask Ray | Potential for elitization of the singularity
Ask Ray | Response to announcement of chatbot Eugene Goostman passing the Turing test
Ask Ray | Science and God
Ask Ray | Supplement study quoted in The Wall Street Journal is misleading
Ask Ray | The Blind Driver Challenge
Ask Ray | The essential self and the continuity of pattern
Ask Ray | The future of human self-awareness: deeper mirrors
Ask Ray | Thoughts on Amazon's plans to use drones for delivery
Ask Ray | US Supreme Court acknowledges that personal space has merged with the digital world
Ask Ray | We could have had the benefits of the Singularity years ago
Ask Ray | Welcome, new computer overlords!
Ask Ray | Will future people lose sight of their humanity?
Ask Ray | Will human intelligence amplication widen the divide between 'haves' and 'have nots'?
Ask Ray | Your recent book mentioned cuteness and made me wonder
book review | The Intelligent Universe: Foreword by Ray Kurzweil
book review | Ray Kurzweil's read on latest AI insights in the book Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us
Kurzweil responds: Don't underestimate the Singularity
Ray Kurzweil responds to "Ray Kurzweil does not understand the brain"
Reflections on Avatar by Ray Kurzweil
Reflections on Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science
The Mind and How to Build One
The significance of Watson
See selected books by this author:
Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I.
ARE WE SPIRITUAL MACHINES? | Chapter 10: The Material World -- Response to George Gilder and Jay Richards
ARE WE SPIRITUAL MACHINES? | Chapter 8: Dembski’s Outdated Understanding: Response to William Dembski
ARE WE SPIRITUAL MACHINES? | Chapter 9: What Turing Fallacy?: Response to Thomas Ray
ARE WE SPIRITUAL MACHINES? | Chapter 1: The Evolution of Mind in the Twenty-First Century
ARE WE SPIRITUAL MACHINES? | Chapter 6: Locked in His Chinese Room: Response to John Searle
ARE WE SPIRITUAL MACHINES? | Chapter 7: Applying Organic Design Principles to Machines is Not an Analogy But a Sound Strategy: Response to Michael Denton
Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
In Depth: Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil responds: Don't underestimate the Singularity
La Singularidad Está Cerca: Cuando los Humanos Transcendamos la Biología
The Age of Intelligent Machines
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | A Coffeehouse Conversation on the Turing Test
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | A Conversation Between a Human Computer and a Materialist Philosopher
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | A NOR B--The Basis of Intelligence?
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | A Platonic Dialog on the Nature of Human Thought
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | An Expert System for Automotive Diagnosis
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 2: Philosophical Roots
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 3: Mathematical Roots
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 6: Electronic Roots
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | ELIZA Passes the Turing Test
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Intelligent Knowledge-Based Systems--AI in the U.K.
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Prologue: The Second Industrial Revolution
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | The Age of Intelligent People
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | A (Kind Of) Turing Test
THE AGE of INTELLIGENT MACHINES | A Personal Postscript
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | All Work and No Play Makes HAL a Dull Program
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 10: Visions
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 11: The Impact On...
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 1: The Roots of Artificial Intelligence
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 4: The Formula for Intelligence
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 5: Mechanical Roots
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 7: The Moving Frontier
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 8: The Search for Knowledge
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chapter 9: The Science of Art
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Chronology
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Footnotes
THE AGE of INTELLIGENT MACHINES | Postscript
THE AGE OF INTELLIGENT MACHINES | The Film
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | A Note to the Reader
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Acknowledgments
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Annotated Contents
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Chapter 1: The Law of Time and Chaos
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Chapter 6: Building New Brains. . .
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Chapter 9: 2009
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Glossary
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Prologue: An Inexorable Emergence
THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Timeline
The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
The Singularity Is Near
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever
Virtually Human: The Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality
See book reviews by this author:
book review | The Intelligent Universe: Foreword by Ray Kurzweil
book review | Ray Kurzweil's read on latest AI insights in the book Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us