$500,000 LEMELSON-MIT PRIZE AWARDED
TO FUTURIST WHO MAKES A CAREER OF HELPING OTHERS
Artificial Intelligence Innovator Raymond
Kurzweil Invented First Reading Machine for the Blind
New York, NY, April 24, 2001 — The Lemelson-MIT Program
announced today that its annual $500,000 prize the world's
largest single award for invention and innovation is being
presented to futurist Raymond Kurzweil, a pioneer of pattern recognition
technologies who has made a career of helping others, while showing
a flair for integrating technology and the arts. Over the past 35
years, Kurzweil has produced a lengthy list of achievements and
innovations that have enriched society, including: advancing artificial
intelligence (AI) technologies; founding, developing and selling
four successful companies; and writing two best-selling books that
support his predictions for the 21st century. Kurzweil is being
recognized by the Lemelson-MIT Program for the breadth and scope
of his inventive work, and for his commitment to enhancing the quality
of life for people with disabilities through technology.
Kurzweil is credited with many invention "firsts" that
span such diverse fields as pattern recognition, speech technology,
music and the visual arts. These include the first omni-font optical
character recognition (OCR) computer program; the first print-to-speech
reading machine for the blind; the first text-to-speech synthesizer;
the first electronic musical instrument capable of reproducing the
sounds of orchestral instruments; and the first commercially-marketed
large vocabulary speech-recognition system. Kurzweil's latest innovation,
a virtual recording and performing artist called "Ramona,"
represents an advance in virtual reality technology.
Kurzweil's landmark invention is the Kurzweil Reading Machine,
introduced in 1976, which converts print to speech. To date, the
Kurzweil Reading Machine has made it possible for many thousands
of blind people to read the text of ordinary books, magazines and
other printed documents. The first owner of a Kurzweil Reading Machine
was legendary musician Stevie Wonder, who contacted Kurzweil after
hearing about the device.
"The Kurzweil Reading Machine was a breakthrough that changed
my life," says Wonder, who helped nominate Kurzweil for the
$500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. "With the Kurzweil Reading Machine,
I could read anything I wanted with complete privacy: music lyrics,
letters from my children, the latest best sellers and magazines,
memos from my business associates. It gave blind people the one
thing that everyone treasures, which is independence."
Consequently, it was Kurzweil's friendship with Wonder which led
to another major innovation: the Kurzweil 250 Synthesizer (K250).
On a tour through Wonder's studio in 1982, Kurzweil learned of Wonder's
frustrations with the current technical limitations that prevented
the bridging of electronic music composition with the sounds of
acoustic instruments. Introduced commercially in 1984, the K250
is the first electronic musical instrument to emulate, successfully,
the complex sound response of a grand piano and virtually all other
Currently, one of Kurzweil's projects is Kurzweil Accelerating
Intelligence Network, a Web-based subsidiary of Kurzweil Technologies,
Inc. (KTI) that showcases ideas of leading technologists and "big
thinkers." The main concentration of KurzweilAI.net is on the
exponential growth of intelligence, both biological and artificial.
"Ramona," Kurzweil's alter ego and a lifelike, photo-realistic,
interactive avatar (virtual personality) with conversational abilities,
simultaneously guides users through KurzweilAI.net and showcases
the latest advancements in intelligent machines.
Other KTI companies include:
- Medical Learning Company (MLC), developer of FamilyPractice.com,
a comprehensive online resource for family practice physicians
which has also developed a virtual patient for use in medical
training. MLC is a joint venture between KTI and the American
Board of Family Practice, the second largest medical specialty
board in the U.S.
- Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies (KCAT) develops and markets artificially
intelligent software to aid the creative process, including Ray
Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet that helps users write poetry and song
lyrics, and the forthcoming AARON (developed by computer scientist
and artist, Harold Cohen), which "paints" original art
on computer screens.
- FatKat, Inc. (Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil
Adaptive Technologies), which is currently developing pattern
recognition-based technology to make stock market investment decisions.
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Previous recipients of the annual $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize include
Thomas Fogarty, surgical pioneer and inventor of the embolectomy
balloon catheter; Carver Mead, physicist who revolutionized the
field of microelectronics; Robert Langer, inventor of the first
FDA-approved brain cancer treatment; and Douglas Englebart, computing
visionary and inventor of the computer mouse.
Kurzweil will be formally presented with the Lemelson-MIT Prize
on Wednesday, April 25, at a special ceremony at the Smithsonian's
National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. This year,
the ceremony will be held in conjunction with "Nobel Week,"
a series of programs honoring the centennial of the Nobel Prizes,
hosted by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Kurzweil gratefully acknowledges the role that his creative parents
as well as his teachers and peers have played in his success as
an inventor over the years. "Encouragement is necessary for
young inventors to succeed. It is important for kids to realize
that they have the authority to explore their own ideas and that
it is okay to fail," he says.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994
by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife,
Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through
outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest
for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages
young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering,
technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded
by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives
at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire
College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance
and the University of Nevada, Reno.
Read more about Raymond Kurzweil.
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