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A True Master Of Invention
Investor's Business Daily ^ | Tuesday September 21, 7:00 pm ET | Brian Deagon

Posted on 09/22/2004 11:34:27 AM PDT by ckilmer

Investor's Business Daily A True Master Of Invention Tuesday September 21, 7:00 pm ET Brian Deagon

Ray Kurzweil believes that to be successful, he has to look far into the future. And the only way to do that well is to try to understand the past.

"At the age of 5, I decided I would be an inventor and by age 12 I was heavily involved with computers," Kurzweil recalled recently. "I quickly realized that timing was the most important thing to invention. Most inventions fail because the timing is wrong."

In order to get the timing right, Kurzweil became an ardent student of evolution. He began developing mathematical models about the evolution of humans, biology, technology, communications and more. He's become one of the most respected inventors of our time, and is considered one of the great thinkers of the last 100 years. And he has dramatic predictions.

"Most futurists have a bad reputation because they have no methodology," said Kurzweil. "Some just take ideas out of thin air. But what's amazing to me is how remarkably predictable certain trends are."

In the early 1980s when the Internet was mainly contained to university labs, he predicted it would become a global phenomenon by the late 1990s. He was right.

How did he know? Kurzweil makes it his habit to chart his observations. He studies them over and over before making a prediction.

The Times, They Are A Changin'

If his other calculations are as accurate, hold on to your seats. The future looks to be a wild ride indeed.

At the current pace of change, he says, progress in this century will be the equivalent of 10 centuries of work.

His research shows that "the rate of progress is doubling every decade," Kurzweil said. And he isn't afraid to make startling predictions based on that research.

Within 30 years, he says, enough will be known about the human brain so that humans can essentially build one. Computers will outperform the brain in all categories of logic and conclusions.

To keep pace with this change, humans will supplement their bodies with technology. Among other things, computer nanobots will be injected into the bloodstream and be able to interact with neurons in the brain. All this will let humans download knowledge and think much faster.

His other predictions are equally unnerving: Computers will be embedded everywhere. Virtual reality will become reality. Computers will become companions and caretakers to the point where there will no longer be a clear distinction between computers and humans.

He knows that some of his predictions seem outrageous. To tackle some of the disbelief and skepticism, Kurzweil wrote two books -- "The Age of Intelligent Machines" and "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence" -- to explain his position and share what he's learned.

The books have a dual purpose. "The benefit of writing books is there is no better way to learn something or update yourself than to write about it," he said.

An eager optimist, Kurzweil hasn't seen an opportunity he didn't like or a challenge he wouldn't take on.

His interest in biotechnology and medicine blossomed after his father died of heart disease at age 58. Kurzweil became concerned that he'd inherited his father's genetic profile, making him prone to heart disease as well. Also, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes at age 35.

Traditional treatment methods worsened his condition, Kurzweil says. So he set out to solve his health problem on his own. He studied, devised his own diet regimen and improved his condition.

But he didn't quit just because he felt better. Realizing that the direction of biotechnology and medicine fit like a hand in glove with the evolution of technology, he continued his studies on health and living.

He's just published his fifth book, "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever," which he co-authored with his friend and colleague, Dr. Terry Grossman.

Kurzweil is 56, but claims that extensive studies on his own body suggest he is only 40.

He sees inventing as a way to help others while keeping his mind occupied. Many of his inventions have benefited disabled people.

One of his most notable inventions is the Kurzweil Reading Machine, introduced in 1976. The idea came about when Kurzweil was on a plane flight sitting next to a blind businessman. He told Kurzweil that business was good and how he could sit in on meetings without people even knowing he was blind.

"The one wish he had," said Kurzweil, "was for the ability to read ordinary printed material. It was the only area in which he was not able to match the abilities of sighted people."

No such machine existed at the time, but Kurzweil had something like it. Two years earlier, he'd been working on getting computers to recognize all manner of type.

Building on what he knew, Kurzweil blended that work with two other technologies he'd developed -- flatbed scanners and a text-to-speech synthesizer. The Kurzweil Reading Machine was a synthesis of those ideas. It was the first system that could transform random text into computer-spoken words.

The machine had a dramatic impact on the lives of blind people and garnered Kurzweil entry into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002. He received the National Medal of Technology in 1999. In 2000, he won the Lemelson-MIT Prize. The $500,000 prize is the largest in the U.S. for invention and innovation.

For Kurzweil, each of his developments gives him material to explore a new direction. He's founded nine firms since his first one in 1973. Most of his work focuses on genetics, nanotechnology and robotics, with an eye toward what the world will be like 40 years from now.

Tapping All Resources

Kurzweil gets much of his inspiration when he's lying down on the job -- literally.

Each night, before he goes to sleep, Kurzweil directs himself to think about some specific issue or problem he has yet to solve. As soon as he awakes in the morning, while still half-awake, he continues to dwell on the issue. Research shows that a dreamlike state allows for more creative thoughts because the usual restrictions people place on their thought processes are constrained.

Once fully awake, he mulls over how he can apply his dreams to his current work. Then it's on to another day of new discoveries.

"My profession, in one word, would be that I'm an inventor," said Kurzweil. "My passion is to create things that have an impact on people's lives."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: dreaming; dreams; invention; kurzweil; problemsolving

1 posted on 09/22/2004 11:34:29 AM PDT by ckilmer
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To: ckilmer

Take 90% of what this guy says with a grain of salt.

2 posted on 09/22/2004 11:41:48 AM PDT by Elvis van Foster
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To: Elvis van Foster
You're being generous.

When someone whose name is only vaguely familiar is called one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, my BS detector goes off.

3 posted on 09/22/2004 11:45:29 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
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To: Elvis van Foster
90%+ of that which Ray Kurzweil has said was correct.

Don't get hypertension from that salt, Elvis.

4 posted on 09/22/2004 11:54:17 AM PDT by Diogenesis (Cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet.)
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To: Elvis van Foster

I second Diogenesis's sentiment. I'm in the computer industry - as a matter of fact, in the sub-field of artificial intelligence, Kurzweil's own primary focus - and I can tell you that this man is highly respected among professionals in the field. I can't attest to whether or not his methodology for invention is necessarily accurate nor that it would work for anybody other than him, but I *can* say that this man is no idiot.

5 posted on 09/22/2004 12:32:24 PM PDT by Omedalus
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Comment #6 Removed by Moderator

To: Sai Babu

great promotion and even goood timing don't make the phone call or the car run. neither keep the airconditioning thrumming in the background or the radio tuned

7 posted on 09/22/2004 1:27:49 PM PDT by ckilmer
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To: ckilmer
"Kurzweil is 56, but claims that extensive studies on his own body suggest he is only 40."

Take this line out and the article would be much more credible.

8 posted on 09/22/2004 2:09:03 PM PDT by perfect stranger ("The Hummer is a regular Pat Buchanan on wheels." PJ O'Rourke from C&D magazine)
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