2001 Lemelson-MIT Prize Winner
|Photo courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies
A futurist and pioneer of pattern recognition technologies, Raymond
Kurzweil has enriched our society with inventions that improve the
quality of life for disabled people, while also merging technology
with the arts. Kurzweil, who invented the first reading machine
for the blind, was awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2001.
Other invention firsts of Kurzweil's include the first musical
synthesizer—capable of reproducing the sounds of orchestral
instruments and the first commercially marketed large vocabulary
speech recognition system.
A native of Queens, NY, Kurzweil aspired to become an inventor
since age five. By the time he was 15, he had built and programmed
his own computer to compose original melodies—which even garnered
him an appearance on the television show "I've Got a Secret."
In 1974, Kurzweil founded Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. and
created the first "omni-font" optical character recognition
(OCR) technology, which enabled computers to read and recognize
printed or typed characters, regardless of typestyle and print quality.
From this revolutionary technology, in 1976, he developed the Kurzweil
Reading Machine—the first machine that could read printed
and typed documents aloud.
Kurzweil's first major project merging entertainment with technology
was Kurzweil Music Systems. With legendary performer Stevie Wonder
advising, he developed the Kurzweil 250 synthesizer—the first
electronic musical instrument to emulate the complex sounds of a
grand piano and virtually all other musical instruments.
In 1995, Kurzweil launched Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. (KTI), his
overarching research and development "incubator" that
creates and markets technologies in pattern recognition, artificial
intelligence and related areas through several companies. KTI companies
produce and market such diverse products as financial analysis software,
a virtual patient training tool and a cyber poet.
Kurzweil graduated from MIT with a B.S. in computer science and
literature (1970). He has also received 11 honorary Doctorates in
science, engineering, music and humane letters, as well as numerous
awards including the National Medal of Technology (1999), The White
House Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence (1986), and induction
into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame (2002). Kurzweil has written
extensively about the future of computing and artificial intelligence
and is the author of The Age of Intelligent Machines (MIT
Press, 1990) and The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking/Penguin
Books, 1999). He also contributed to Are we Spiritual Machines?:
Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I. (Discovery Institute,