Ray Kurzweil, Inventor & Visionary: Why is he invisible?

ray_lightI’d heard about Ray Kurzweil and his synthesizer invention many years ago due to his collaboration with Stevie Wonder. His invention also spawned a new music technology business. Then the invention of his reading machine for the blind created a new education technology company and so on. This is a man that has accomplished a *great* deal in his life to date…and I’m convinced there’s a lot more to come.

A PCWorld interview with Ray Kurzweil introduced him like this: “Technology pioneer, entrepreneur, and futurist Ray Kurzweil, 56, invented the flatbed scanner, developed the first text-to-speech reading machine for the blind, helped develop omnifont optical character recognition, and was the first to market large-vocabulary speech recognition technology, among many other achievements. He has won numerous prizes and awards, including the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the nation’s largest award for invention and innovation, and the 1999 National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton. In his latest book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Rodale Books), Kurzweil and coauthor Terry Grossman, MD, explain how new technologies will push human life spans into virtual immortality.

His book, “The Age of Spiritual Machines” is one of my favorites. After reading it I was compelled to explore more about this man so as to add to my own understanding of him and gauge the credibility of his predictions. This search took me to his KurzweilAI web site (AI for Artificial Intelligence) and I’ve spent some quality time there.

My point? Kurzweil is a visionary and he has the credentials and achievements like this and this that, in my mind, lend credibility to his prognostications. Some are interesting, others delightful, and still others disturbing. We should at least pay serious attention to him.

One more thing: how come hardly anyone I know has any clue who this man is or what he’s accomplished? For example, my 10 year old son is doing a school project where he’s supposed to choose from four “heroes” biographies from which he’ll choose one, perform additional research on this person and complete a packet. The list includes numerous historical and current figures in athletics, science, politics, medicine, space, etc.) that have made an unquestionable impact on humankind (Jackie Robinson, Alexander Graham Bell, Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Mother Teresa, Sally Ride). Only a handful of those on the list are currently living and I submit we have heroes in our midst right now.

Curiously, there are only a handful of scientists on the list and, most disturbingly, no living ones. I’m going to send my son’s teacher a note and ask why. I’m also going to suggest Ray Kurzweil is added to the list for the future as well as inquire as to whether or not the definition of heroism and hero is being discussed so these kids have a context from which to judge heroism and heroic acts. For me, Ray Kurzweil has made a considerable impact and is a hero in my book.

Also, it’s disturbing that my son could rattle off — from a high level though — what most of the people on the heroes list did and for what they were known. He does, however, know details of the top ten video games. The hottest kids books. The must-see-TV. All the superheroes. But he’d never heard of Ray Kurzweil.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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