Ray Kurzweil to Receive National Medal of Technology from President Clinton
February 1, 2000. The White House announced this morning that Ray Kurzweil
will receive the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor in
technology, from President Clinton in a White House Ceremony on March 14,
The citation on Mr. Kurzweil’s National Medal of Technology will read:
For pioneering and innovative achievements in computer science that have
overcome barriers for and enriched the lives of disabled persons and of all
Americans, including developing the first print-to-speech reading machine
for the blind, the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech
recognition technology, and the ground-breaking Kurzweil 250 computer music
Following is background information on the National Medal of Technology, and
Ray Kurzweil’s Brief Biography released by the White House.
Background on the National Medal of Technology.
The National Medal of Technology is the nation’s highest honor in
technology. Enacted by Congress in 1980, the Medal has been awarded by the
President of the United States each year since 1985. It is awarded to
several individuals (and/or groups of individuals) each year. In most
years, a company has also been honored. There are no categories specified
in the award.
Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley writes: “The National Medal of
Technology is the Nation’s highest honor for technological achievement,
presented annually by the President of the United States. The men and women
awarded the National Medal of Technology are those whose extraordinary works
in research, development and design have made significant contributions to
U.S. prosperity and competitiveness, our overall quality of life, and our
understanding of the world around us.”
President Clinton, in his remarks at the April 27, 1999 White House ceremony
bestowing the National Medal of Technology to the 1998 Laureates said “Your
success in illuminating the hows and whys of our world and raising the
quality of human existence have helped make the time in which we live
perhaps the most exciting in human history. . . In an age when the entire
store of knowledge doubles every five years, where prosperity depends upon
command of that ever-growing store, the United States is the strongest it
has ever been, thanks in large measure to the remarkable pace and scope of
American Science and technology in the last 50 years. . .”
Ray Kurzweil’s Brief Biography Released by the White House
When Ray Kurzweil was developing the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first
print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, he worked closely with a team
of blind engineers and scientists, not just to test the Kurzweil Reading
Machine and design its user interface, but on all facets of this complex
undertaking. It was a simple but pioneering design philosophy-work closely
with the intended users of one’s inventions as key participants in the
invention process. That philosophy combined with Kurzweil’s own innovative
genius has led to a dazzling array of landmark inventions.
The Reading Machine itself has been called the most significant advance for
the blind since the invention of Braille in the nineteenth century.
Introduced in 1976, it reads ordinary printed materials such as books,
magazines and memos to blind, visually impaired and dyslexic persons in a
synthesized voice. Its invention required solving several important computer
science problems and resulted in the creation of the first omni-font optical
character recognition (OCR) technology, the first CCD (Charge Coupled
Device) flat-bed scanner and the first text-to-speech synthesizer. Unlike
limited-font OCR systems, Kurzweil’s OCR recognized print regardless of type
style. It would be ten years before anyone else was able to duplicate this
Each of these inventions evolved into what is today a major commercial field
or industry, and the technologies that Kurzweil created, and their
successors, continue to be market leaders within those industries. Virtually
all American information workers use, at least indirectly, CCD flat-bed
scanning and omni-font OCR, technologies first created and pioneered by
Kurzweil. These are key enabling technologies that have made possible text
and multi-media data bases, on-line information services, image and text
documents on the World Wide Web and other manifestations of the information
When Kurzweil turned his attention to developing the first computer music
keyboard that could accurately and convincingly recreate the sounds of the
grand piano and other orchestral (i.e., acoustic) instruments, he applied
the same lesson he had learned in developing the reading machine. All the
engineers and scientists that worked on the new project were musicians, and
many were quite accomplished. The Kurzweil 250, introduced in 1984, was able
to fool concert pianists in an A-B “blind” comparison as to whether they
were hearing a grand piano or the Kurzweil invention. The technology
Kurzweil created allowed musicians for the first time to play the sounds of
any acoustic instrument, to play them polyphonically (i.e., multiple notes
at a time), and to apply the full range of computer control techniques such
as sequencing, layering and sound modification to the rich desirable sounds
of acoustic instruments. As with the Reading Machine and the OCR technology,
it would be several years before any other person or organization would
duplicate this feat..
The type of computer-based music synthesis that Kurzweil pioneered has
evolved into what is today a multi-billion dollar industry and is used to
create virtually all commercial music-recorded albums, movies, TV, etc. The
Kurzweil brand of electronic musical instruments is a market leader and sold
in 45 countries.
Kurzweil was also the principal developer of the first commercially marketed
large vocabulary speech recognition technology. Kurzweil VOICE Report,
introduced in 1987, could convert speech into print, the opposite of the
reading machine. Today it is widely used by hands-disabled persons to create
written documents, use computers, and control their environment. A
combination of Kurzweil’s speech recognition technology with a
Kurzweil-developed medical expert system and knowledge base is also widely
used by physicians to create medical reports.
Overall, Kurzweil’s inventions have involved major advances in computer
science, while at the same time yielding practical products that meet
fundamental needs. It is rare for one individual to successfully work at
both ends of this spectrum. He has also created multiple businesses to bring
these inventions to market, all of which continue today as market leaders.
His inventions have provided significant benefit to mankind by overcoming
major barriers for disabled persons, enriching the world of music, and
expanding the usefulness of computers for everyone.
In addition to his inventions, Kurzweil is a prolific author. His latest
book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human
Intelligence (Viking, 1999), has quickly achieved a high level of critical
and commercial success.
Kurzweil received his BS in computer science and literature from MIT.
Background on the Other 1999 National Medal of Technology Laureates.
Robert Taylor, former head of the Xerox PARC Computer Science Lab,
co-creator (with Alan Kay) of the Alto (the first personal computer), and
the graphic user interface. Subsequently, director of the Information
Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) of ARPA, where he was instrumental in
the creation of ARPAnet, the forerunner to the Internet.
The late Robert Swanson, founder of Genentech; regarded as the father of the
Glen Culler, UCSB (University of California at Santa Barbara) Professor,
pioneered e-mail and voice messaging; created the UCSB On-Line System, a
forerunner to the ARPAnet, and one of the original ARPAnet sites.
Also being honored is the company Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, New
York), a pioneer in wireless communication.
National Medal of Technology Laureates in Software, Computer Science, and
Communications in the Years 1985 through 1998
Only a few former recipients of the National Medal of Technology have been
drawn from the field of software technology, although a substantial number
have been in the computer and communications fields. Here are the National
Medal of Technology Laureates in the fields of software, computer science,
and communications from the years 1985 through 1998:
Joint award to Kenneth L. Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie for inventing the
UNIX operating system, and the C programming language.
Joint award to Vinton Gray Cerf and Robert E. Kahn for inventing the
(TCP/IP) protocol on which the Internet is based.
Edward R. McCracken, pioneer in 3D visual graphics, built Silicon Graphics.
Joint award to Praveen Chaudhari, Jerome J. Cuomo, and Richard J. Gambino
for development of the basis of read-write optical storage.
Joint award to Joel S. Engel and Richard Frenkiel for the development of
cellular communication technology.
Irwin M. Jacobs, for leadership in wireless communication, founder and CEO
of Qualcomm, Inc.
Amos E. Joel, Jr. for pioneering work in telecommunications switching
Kenneth H. Olsen, for pioneering work in establishing the minicomputer
industry; founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation.
William H. Gates III for his contribution to the development of the personal
computing industry; founder and CEO of Microsoft Corp.
J. Joseph Woodland, for inventing bar code technology.
C. Gordon Bell, for achievements in computer design; CTO of Digital
John Cocke, for development of the Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC)
Grace Murray Hopper, for developing the first high-level computer language
(COBOL, in the 1940s).
John V. Atanasoff, for the invention of the first electronic digital
computer (in 1940).
Jack St. Clair Kilby, an inventor of the integrated circuit.
John S. Mayo, for overseeing the conversion of the national telephone
network from analog to digital technology.
Gordon E. Moore, an inventor of the integrated circuit and microprocessor.
Joint award to Jay W. Forrester and Robert R. Everett, for pioneering
real-time computer applications.
Robert H. Dennard, inventor of the one-transistor memory cell used in
virtually all RAM memory.
David Packard, for technical leadership, and development of Hewlett-Packard
Robert N. Noyce, for inventions in integrated circuits and the
Bernard Gordon, father of analog-to-digital conversion, founder and CEO of
Reynold B. Johnson, developer of magnetic disk storage.
William C. Norris, for advancement of computer technology, and creating
Control Data Corp.
AT&T Bell Labs for contributions to electronic communications.
Joint award to Erich Bloch, Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., and Bob O. Evans, for
creating the IBM System/360.
Joint award to Steven P. Jobs and Stephen Wozniak for development of the
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