On December 8, 2000, Ray Kurzweil visited the Assistive Technology Center at the RCPD. There, he was met by staff and students representing many areas where his inventions have made an impact, including the RCPD, Artificial Language Laboratory, School of Music and the department of Counseling Education, Psychology and Special Education (CEPSE). During the presentation and reception that followed, Mr. Kurzweil took the opportunity to discuss his products with those present, later remarking that he was pleased by the warm MSU welcome and that he was delighted to meet and speak with people impacted by his technologies. "It is important to see the impact of your efforts on people," he said.
After leaving the RCPD, Mr. Kurzweil attended a special faculty and presidential reception prior to receiving formal recognition with an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters at the advanced degree ceremony. This, his tenth degree, was the result of a nomination by Dr. John Eulenberg of the Artificial Language Laboratory and Valerie Nilson and Michael Hudson of the RCPD.
After receiving various gifts, including a blanket depicting MSU and a customized plaque etched in copper on a translucent circuit board, Mr. Kurzweil provided impromptu remarks. "This is more than I expected," he said. After which nearly fifty guests, expressing their admiration for his dedication and creativity, posed with Ray Kurzweil for photographs and obtained autographs on items ranging from cards, pictures and copies of his latest book.
A renowned inventor whose technological genius has encompassed an unusually large assortment of fields, Ray Kurzweil launched his career in 1963 when he began experimenting with the concept of pattern recognition in computer systems. This first computer, which he built for a high school science project, was designed to analyze the compositions of famous musicians and then to compose original scores of its own in a similar style. It won him First Prize at the International Science Fair. Upon his admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he expanded his field of interest. In his sophomore year, he created the Select College Consulting Program, which matched individual students to prospective colleges, and later sold it to the New York publishing firm of Harcourt, Brace and World. After graduation, Mr. Kurzweil entered the corporate world, founding and selling four major businesses from 1974 to 1998. The first, Kurzweil Computer Products Inc., was responsible for developing an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program that was capable of recognizing printed text regardless of font, style and clarity, as well as the first CCD flat bed scanner and full text to speech synthesizer. The combination of these three inventions became the first print to speech reader. Mr. Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) introduced it to the public at a press conference on January 13, 1976, prompting the popular music star Stevie Wonder to purchase their first product unit the very next day. The resultant friendship between the inventor and the musician subsequently led to the creation of Kurzweil Music Systems in 1982 and the eventual development of the Kurzweil 250, which was the first electronic synthesizer to convincingly recreate the full sound of the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. The year 1982 also saw the founding of Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, whose greatest technological accomplishments included the Kurzweil Clinical Reporter, a combination of speech recognition and expert systems that enabled doctors to compile medical records by dictating aloud to emergency room computers. Finally, in 1996, Kurzweil Educational System was founded and in August 1998 they received the first $150,000 SAP/Stevie Wonder Product of the Year Vision Award for the Kurzweil 1000 reading system. Mr. Kurzweil's private foundation, the Kurzweil foundation, has resolved to use the award funds to provide scholarships for deserving blind students.
Mr. Kurzweil's efforts are not devoted solely to technology and philanthropy. In 1990, he published "The Age of Intelligent Machines" (MIT Press), which predicts the roles of machines in the future. It won him the Award for Most Outstanding Computer Science Book from the Association of American Publishers. It was followed by "The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life: How to Illiminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer" (Crown Publishers, 1993) and recently by the best selling "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence" (Viking hardcover, Penguin paperback).
The RCPD invited Mr. Kurzweil to visit the office because of his work that benefits persons with disabilities. Mr. Kurzweil visited campus to speak at the December commencement ceremonies.
A framed and autographed picture of the inventor at the RCPD commemorates the number and variety of lives and professional fields that have benefited from Mr. Kurzweil's career. Presented to and signed by Mr. Kurzweil at the reception, it hangs outside the Assistive Technology Center in tribute to his accomplishments. Given the scope and generosity of the life and work it chronicles, this plaque serves as an example and encouragement to all those who view it.