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Ray Kurzweil

Born:   1948, Queens, NY
Died:   -

Did You Know?

Kurzweil appeared on Steve Allen's television show "I've Got a Secret" in 1965. His secret? The piano music that he played on the show was composed by a computer of his own design.

Photos: (left) Photo by Michael Lutch courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.; (right) Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

Pattern Recognition

A prodigy from Queens created hardware and software to help blind people read and musicians make music. His inventions, writings, and influential thinking have explored and exploited technology in many ways, and helped shape ongoing work in artificial intelligence.

Pattern Recognition
Raymond Kurzweil has advanced pattern recognition technologies, and developed tools for blind people, musicians, and many others. He was born in 1948 to highly educated parents who fled Hitler and settled in Queens, New York. Early on -- long before the personal computer era -- Kurzweil showed a talent for computers. At the age of 15, he developed a pattern recognition system, training a computer to analyze patterns in classical music and then compose its own original works based on what it had evaluated. It won first prize in the International Science Fair. A member of a Unitarian youth organization, Kurzweil also took an interest in social justice; he marched for civil rights and looked up to Martin Luther King.

A Reading Machine
As a student at MIT, Kurzweil started a company that used computers to help high school students evaluate colleges and find a good match. He sold it to a New York publisher for $100,000 plus royalties. In 1974, he founded a company called Kurzweil Computer Products. Two years later, he introduced the Kurzweil Reading Machine, a novel device that combined three inventions: the first charge coupled device (C.C.D.) flatbed scanner, the first optical character recognition (O.C.R.) software, and the first, full text-to-speech synthesizer. His Reading Machine was able to detect and correct errors as well as audibly pronounce words. The commercial version of the O.C.R. software was used by Lexis-Nexis to create its vast online databases of news and legal information. In 1978, Kurzweil sold his O.C.R. business to Xerox, but stayed on as a consultant until 1995.

A Music-Making Computer
The Reading Machine was a godsend for blind consumers, including the performer Stevie Wonder, who befriended Kurzweil and encouraged him to venture into music technology. Kurzweil's K250 synthesizer, the world's first keyboard-input computer instrument, debuted in 1984 and generated the sounds of various acoustic instruments. Kurzweil sold his synthesizer company in 1990, the same year his influential book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, was published.

Awards and Research
Kurzweil, who has received dozens of awards and honorary degrees, continues to innovate and theorize about artificial intelligence (A.I.) at his Massachusetts lab. His more recent pursuits have included speech recognition, medical dictation, print-to-speech reading technology, A.I.-based financial analysis, software to help creative processes, and more.

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