Ray Kurzweil Biography

(Computer scientist and Futurist)

Birthday: February 12, 1948 (Aquarius)

Born In: New York City, New York, United States

American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil is one of the most prominent inventors and futurists of this century. His scientific predictions have mostly been accurate. An MIT alumnus, Kurzweil is known for his diverse inventions, such as the CCD flat-bed scanner, the first print-to-speech reading machine aimed for the blind, the first omni-font OCR system, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first musical synthesizer able to recreate original musical instruments, and the first large-vocabulary speech recognition meant for the commercial market. In the past, he also tried using technology to develop financial markets and to create art and poetry. He has also penned numerous books, including several bestsellers, on topics such as the future of human-AI interaction, longevity, and health. His countless awards and honors include a National Medal and a Technical Grammy award. He is married to a psychologist and is the father of two children.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Raymond Kurzweil

Age: 75 Years, 75 Year Old Males


Spouse/Ex-: Sonya R. Kurzweil (m. 1975)

father: Frederic Kurzweil

mother: Hannah Kurzweil

children: Amy Kurzweil, Ethan Kurzweil

Born Country: United States

Computer Scientists American Men

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: Massachusetts Institute Of Technology

awards: Grace Murray Hopper Award (1978)
National Medal of Technology (1999)

Childhood, Early Life & Education

Raymond “Ray” Kurzweil was born on February 12, 1948, in New York City, US, into a secular Jewish family. He was raised in the Queens borough.

Though his father, Frederic Kurzweil, was a concert pianist, composer, and music instructor, and his mother, Hannah, was a visual artist, they encouraged little Ray to pursue his early interest in science, while also training him in music and art. Ray loved playing the piano as a child but also aspired to be a scientist and inventor.

His parents had fled Austria with the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany in Central Europe and had settled in New York, where they raised both Ray and his sister, Enid.

Kurzweil was 12 when he first explored the computer with the help of an uncle who worked as a Bell Labs engineer. At 14, he participated in the Head Start program as a computer programmer.

By 15, Kurzweil had written his first computer program. In 1965, while still in high school, he invented a pattern recognition software program that could analyze classical music. The program could compose music, imitating various composers. The invention earned him the first prize at the International Science Fair.

Kurzweil was also awarded by Westinghouse Talent Search. He was invited to the White House and was congratulated by President Lyndon B. Johnson. At 16, he was seen performing a piano composition created by his computer, on the TV program I’ve Got a Secret.

While studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Ray Kurzweil devised a computer program to help high-school students choose colleges. The program involved matching answers of a 300-question survey with details about various schools in a database. He eventually sold it to publisher Harcourt, Brace & World for $100,000 plus royalties. In 1970, he graduated from MIT, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and literature.

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Following his graduation, Ray Kurzweil started Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. Based on his previous work in pattern recognition, he developed an optical character recognition (OCR) system, which became the first such program that was able to read the typical type faces used in publishing back then.

A conversation with a blind fellow passenger on a flight made Kurzweil use his OCR software to create a reading machine for the blind. This led to the invention of the CCD flatbed scanner and the voice-synthesizing technology used in reading the scanned text.

The Kurzweil Reading Machine, co-created with Bell Labs, was made public in January 1976. Visually challenged musician Stevie Wonder immediately bought a sample model. In 1980, Kurzweil sold his company. It was later renamed ScanSoft and acquired by Xerox Corporation, with Kurzweil serving as a consultant.

Urged by Stevie Wonder to create a programmable synthesizer that could produce smoother and more accurate sounds, Ray Kurzweil later launched Kurzweil Music Systems. He also started Kurzweil Applied Intelligence (KAI), with an aim to work on computer speech recognition systems.

In 1984, Kurzweil Music Systems created the Kurzweil 250, which impressed musicians. Meanwhile, KAI released the world’s first commercial speech recognition software in 1987. This contributed to the rise of speech-activated voice mail systems and dictation software that converted spoken words into written text. In 1990, he sold his music systems company but continued to work as a consultant.

In 1999, through Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies, he developed software that would recognize patterns in the financial world. He eventually established a hedge fund named FatKat, or Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies.

Over the years, he also worked on software to develop medical training and explored the possibility of using technology in creating art and poetry. In 2002, he launched his website, KurzweilAI.net, where he featured articles on the future of technology and introduced Ramona, a virtual-reality lady who would interact with users.

In 2003, Kurzweil co-established a company for selling nutritional supplements to extend the human life span. In 2005, he co-founded a company that created a handheld print reader aimed for the blind.

In 2012, he joined Google and eventually worked as their Director of Engineering, working on machine intelligence. He also co-founded and served as the chancellor of Singularity University, developing and working on concepts such as futurism and transhumanism.

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His Ideas through Books and Movies

Ray Kurzweil has also often expressed his views on technology and longevity through his books and has penned several national bestsellers, such as the New York Times bestsellers The Singularity Is Near, published in 2005, and How to Create a Mind, published in 2012.

In The Singularity Is Near, he states that future computers would possess “superintelligence,” which would surpass human comprehension. He also stresses on the impact of the human-AI interaction.

In his first book, The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), he offered predictions on the development of IT. In The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life (1993), he speaks about diet and fast consumption.

In The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999), he relates technology and human evolution, proposing the Law of Accelerating Returns. In 2019, he released his first novel, Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine.

In 2010, he wrote and co-produced the film The Singularity Is Near: A True Story About the Future, partly based on his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near.

Personal Life

In 1975, Ray Kurzweil married Sonya Rosenwald Kurzweil. She is a psychologist who has had a successful practice in Newton, Massachusetts. She has also worked as a clinical instructor and psychologist with Harvard Medical School, among other organizations.

The couple stays in Burlington, Massachusetts. They have two children: their son, Ethan, a venture capitalist, and their daughter, Amy, a writer and a cartoonist.

Kurzweil has been an Overseer at the Boston Children's Museum. Kurzweil is agnostic.

In 1983, at age 35, Kurzweil was diagnosed with glucose intolerance, which leads to Type II diabetes and causes heart disease. This motivated him to explore healthy lifestyle changes through diet and exercise, which also reflected in some of his books later.

Awards & Achievements

Kurzweil has received numerous awards and honors, such as MIT’s Inventor of the Year award and Carnegie Mellon University’s Dickson Prize. In 1999, he received the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton.

In 2001, he received the Lemelson-MIT Prize. The following year, he was named to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

In 2015, Kurzweil received a Technical Grammy award, primarily for contributing to the field of music with his Kurzweil 250 music system. He has also been awarded 21 honorary doctorates and has received honors from three U.S. presidents.

See the events in life of Ray Kurzweil in Chronological Order

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