How Ray Kurzweil Keeps Changing the World

November 7, 2001 by John Williams

The inventor whose amazing devices have transformed the lives of the disabled pursues a new dream: Making paraplegics walk again.

There are dreamers. There are genius inventors. And there are humanitarians driven to improve the quality of life and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. What happens when you combine the dreamer, genius, and humanitarian into one person? You get Raymond Kurzweil.

A native of Queens, N.Y., Kurzweil is an inventor credited with many innovations that have aided people with disabilities. These include the first print-to-speech reading program for blind people and the first off-the-shelf large vocabulary speech-recognition software system. He also pioneered the first electronic musical instrument capable of reproducing orchestral sounds.

On Apr. 25, Kurzweil accepted the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The $500,000 prize is the world’s largest for invention and innovation. In presenting the award, Charles M. West, president of the MIT, said: “Besides being a great scientist and inventor, Ray Kurzweil is a great humanitarian whose life has been totally committed to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities through technology.”

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