Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. History
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts 02481
Telephone: (781) 263-0000
Toll Free: 877-263-8263
Fax: (781) 263-9999
NAIC: 511210 Software Publishing; 541511 Custom Computer Programming Services; 541990 All Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
The principals of KTI have founded, developed, and sold four successful companies in artificial intelligence technologies. Kurzweil "firsts" include the first omni-font optical character recognition (OCR), the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the sounds of the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition, and others.
- Boy genius Ray Kurzweil invents a computer capable of composing classical music.
- Kurzweil forms Kurzweil Computer Products (KCP) for development of pattern recognition technology.
- KCP introduces the Kurzweil Reading Machine, combining three technological firsts.
- Kurzweil Music Systems launches a keyboard synthesizer that accurately reproduces the sounds of acoustic instruments.
- Kurzweil Applied Intelligence introduces the first speech-to-text computer program.
- KurzweilVoice for Windows 1.0 is launched, bringing discrete speech command technology to the personal computer environment.
- Kurzweil Technologies is founded.
- The first Continuous Speech Natural Language Command and Control software is launched as Kurzweil Voice Commands; The Medical Learning Company is formed.
- Kurzweil forms FAT KAT, Inc. to develop artificial intelligence that can make decisions about buying and selling on the stock market.
- KTI introduces "Ramona," the virtual reality rock star.
Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. (KTI) is an umbrella organization for companies dedicated to specific artificial intelligence technologies developed by Ray Kurzweil and his team of scientists. Subsidiary companies include Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Network, Inc., providing an online meeting place at www.kurzweilai.com for people interested in the future of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies. FAT KAT, Inc. is developing a stock market prediction technology using artificial intelligence. Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies applies artificial intelligence to create computer-generated works of original painting and poetry. The Medical Learning Company provides online continuing education to family physicians using the SynPatient case simulator. KTI provides mentoring services for technology asset assessment and management, such as licensing and purchasing patent assets.
A pioneer of intelligent systems, Ray Kurzweil is one of the foremost inventors of the late 20th century and early 21st century. He has received several awards, grants, and prizes, including the National Medal of Technology in 1999, the highest such honor, and the $500,000 Lemelson MIT Prize in 2000. Kurzweil holds honorary doctorates from 11 universities. His numerous published materials include the best-selling books The Age of Intelligent Machines (MIT Press, 1990) and The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Viking/Penguin, 1999). With 15 technological firsts to his name, Kurzweil was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in September 2002.
Technological Firsts: The 1960s-70s
Kurzweil's long history of invention and innovation in computer technology preceded the formation of Kurzweil Technologies in 1995. At the age of 13 he developed the first computerized statistical application, Four Way Analysis of Variance, distributed through IBM. In 1965, at 17 years old, Kurzweil invented a computer with an "expert" system capable of recognizing patterns in classical music compositions; the computer then composed original compositions based on those patterns. For this work Kurzweil won first prize in the International Science Fair for Electronics and Communications and six national prizes; he was one of 40 winners in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Kurzweil appeared on the television show, "I've Got a Secret," where he played one of the musical compositions on an upright piano. One of the guest celebrities guessed his secret, that the computer he built had composed the piece.
Kurzweil's first foray into the business world occurred while he was a sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He input two million facts on 3,000 colleges into a computer program that then matched the preferences of high school students to appropriate colleges. Kurzweil sold the Select College Consulting Program (SELECT) to a New York publisher for $100,000 plus royalties in 1967.
Kurzweil's interest in pattern recognition led to the founding of Kurzweil Computer Products (KCP) in 1974. Kurzweil intended to develop an optical character recognition program capable of reading any font; at that time such programs were capable of recognizing only one or two fonts. By late 1974 Kurzweil succeeded in developing the Omni-Font Optical Character Recognition (OCR), but he did not know what practical applications existed for it. Unexpectedly he met a blind man on an airplane who said the only real disability to his blindness was the inability to read books, magazines, and documents. The encounter prompted Kurzweil to develop the first Print-to-Speech Reading Machine for the Blind. The OCR scanned materials and the program generalized about certain shapes, identified letters, and then synthesized words into an artificial voice that spoke the words out loud.
Kurzweil had to invent two other technologies first, however. In 1975 KCP completed development of the Text-to-Speech synthesizer and a Charge-Coupled Device flatbed scanner. The combination of these two technologies with the OCR program produced the Kurzweil Reading Machine, introduced in 1976. Not only did the machine incorporate artificial intelligence into a consumer product for the first time, it proved to be the most important tool for the blind since the invention of Braille. When blind musician Stevie Wonder heard about the machine, he contacted Kurzweil, who pushed production forward to provide Wonder with a Reading Machine.
Kurzweil Computer Products sought outside funding to keep the company afloat. The Xerox Corporation invested in 1978, then purchased the company for $6 million in 1980. Kurzweil acted as technology consultant to the company until 1995. Xerox renamed the OCR to TextBridge and the company name to ScanSoft.
Turning Attention to Electronic Music in the Early 1980s
Kurzweil developed a friendship with Stevie Wonder, which led to the formation of Kurzweil Music Systems (KMS) in 1982. Wonder expressed to Kurzweil his desire for a keyboard that created the sounds of acoustic instruments, such as the guitar, violin, and grand piano, yet allowed the ease of composition of an electronic keyboard. Recording multiple layers of sound one layer at a time and editing individual notes are two of the capabilities of electronic music composition. Electronic synthesizers at that time resonated in the tone of an electronic organ. With Wonder as musical advisor, Kurzweil formed KMS to develop an electronic keyboard capable of accurately reproducing acoustic music while providing the flexibility of electronic composition.
When KMS introduced the Kurzweil 250 electronic keyboard in 1983, experienced musicians were unable to discern a difference between the K250 and a grand piano. Priced at $10,700, the K250 provided 60 preset "voices," including violin, guitar, brass, and strings, available for a variety of music styles, such as a symphony orchestra or a rock-n-roll band. Features of the K250 included a digital memory for recording new sounds into the machine and a "velocity sensitive keyboard" that produced a sound at the timbre equivalent to the force with which the musician touched the key. The Musical Instrumental Digital Interface allowed the keyboard to be connected to a personal computer that wrote musical notation on a computer monitor.
The high price of the K250 limited KMS customers to recording studios and successful musicians, such as Wonder, Pat Matheny Group, Prince, and Madonna. KMS raised funds through private and public stock offerings and through the issuance of debentures. A lower-priced keyboard, the K1000, introduced in fall 1986, expanded the company's market to amateur musicians with a retail price of $2,000.
Overburdened with debt, the company filed for bankruptcy in April 1990. At this time KMS signed an agreement to sell certain assets to Young Chang Akki Company of Korea, the largest manufacturer of grand pianos worldwide. In exchange for the rights to manufacture Kurzweil instruments under the trade name, Kurzweil received $3 million and royalties for six years. The sale allowed KMS to continue product development. In 1991 Young Chang introduced the K2000, which utilized breakthrough technology, the Variable Architecture Synthesis (VAST), capable of producing three trillion sounds. Kurzweil acted as a consultant for Young Chang until 1994.
Speech Pattern Recognition into the Late 1990s
Although Kurzweil's love of music prompted him to develop an electronic keyboard, his interest in voice pattern recognition inspired much of his inventive abilities. Kurzweil Applied Intelligence (KAI) formed in 1982 to develop a word processor that recognized human speech and responded to its command. Considered the Holy Grail of the computer industry, inventors like Kurzweil sought to create a computer capable of responding to human commands, ultimately to do so in a human voice like HAL in the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey." Many problems had to be solved first, including inadequate computer speed and computer memory for the level of processing demanded by voice command technology.
Kurzweil pioneered the most complex applications of artificial intelligence for voice command technology. The basic application of artificial intelligence involved teaching the processor to copy the manner in which the human brain recognized language usage and speech patterns. Kurzweil hastened the technological process by utilizing several programs that simultaneously analyzed a word and its role in the sentence, either as pronounced or through prediction. Development involved applying knowledge from the fields of linguistics, signal processing, speech science, and pattern recognition. After exposing the program to thousands of hours of human speech, the team at KAI taught the program to predict word use by looking for common components of sentence structure, such as a noun and its modifier. Kurzweil referred to the multiple testing programs as "experts" capable of learning human language usage; these complemented the acoustic phonetic analyzer, the ear of the machine. Investment from Wang Laboratories, at $1.5 million, and the Xerox Corporation, at $2.5 million, supported research at KAI.
The company's work came to fruition in the mid-1980s as KAI introduced a number of speech-to-text systems, each a refinement of the technology and its practical applications. KAI introduced the first speech recognition product in late 1985. The talkwriter employed a vocabulary of 1,000 words; words spoken discretely, with a pause between each word, were displayed as text that could then be edited and printed. A computer user had to train the program to recognize his or her particular speech pattern. This was accomplished by pronouncing a list of more than 200 unusual words into the computer, such as "oof" and "dragon beast"; the words covered every distinctive sound, or phoneme, in the English language.
Also in 1985, KAI introduced the first knowledge-based system, applied to creating medical reports. VoiceMed could be taught language specific to different fields of medicine. Kurzweil Voicesystem was the first knowledge-based speech recognition technology for use with a personal computer. KAI introduced the first commercially marketed, large vocabulary speech recognition system in 1987. VoiceReport utilized a 5,000-word vocabulary for dictation, with the capacity to add new words.
KAI found a market for speech-to-text technology among radiologists, with the vocabulary used by radiologists being taught to the computer program. The technology allowed a radiologist, while analyzing x-rays, to dictate reports into a computer rather than into a tape recorder. Tape recordings took several days to transcribe and radiologists had to proofread the report, perhaps having forgotten what was said. VoiceRAD, introduced in 1988, refined the technology. The system provided at least 75 percent correct word recognition and prompted alternatives to undetermined words; the program user said the number of the word on the list of alternatives and the computer replaced it.
Offshoots of VoiceRAD included VoiceEM, providing instant dictation for emergency rooms, and VoiceMED, developed for other specific medical applications, such as pathology, cardiology, and nephrology. The knowledge-based systems allowed for free text or suggested word phrasing. If the speaker used the term "cardioversion," VoiceMED suggested "Cardioversion was done for ..." and listed the possible reasons for the test.
KAI sought to develop speech-to-text technology for the personal computer. In 1993 the company introduced KurzweilVoice, a system capable of recognizing 50,000 words without having to be taught an individual's speech pattern. KAI developed systems specifically for government, legal, and financial services as well as for conversion to the Dutch, German, and Italian languages. KurzweilVoice for Windows 1.0 was launched in spring 1994. The speech recognition software allowed voice commands to control Windows and allowed for dictation in various Windows software, such as WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. The user chose a 60,000-word or 30,000-word vocabulary and then taught the system new words for a vocabulary of up to 200,000 words.
To support research and development, KAI made an initial public offering (IPO) of stock in August 1993. An accounting scandal, in which the president, vice-president, and treasurer of the company were found guilty of fraud, required the company to settle with shareholders in 1996. KAI did receive a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1994 for research in continuous speech recognition technology and its interface with keyboard and pointing devices.
KAI enhanced its voice recognition technologies for the Windows operating system. Kurzweil Voice for Windows 2.0, released in 1996, enabled voice commands to dictate, edit, format, spellcheck, create and send email, input information into spreadsheets, and update databases. In July KAI began shipments of the Kurzweil Clinical Reported, an upgrade of VoiceMed. The Windows-based application interfaced with mouse, pen, and keyboard and allowed faster reporting and greater accuracy than earlier systems.
In the summer of 1997 Kurzweil sold KAI to Lernout and Hauspie (L&H), a speech products company in Belgium, for $53 million. With Kurzweil as chief technologist L&H continued product development. In 1997 KAI introduced the first Continuous Speech Natural Language Command and Control Software, KurzweilVoice Commands. By 1999 personal computer technology accommodated enough speed to allow for program recognition of continuous speech. Kurzweil's Voice Xpress Plus led the market. KAI later became part of ScanSoft.
Formation of Kurzweil Technologies to Oversee New Ventures in the Late 1990s, Early 2000s
Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. (KTI) was founded in 1995 to handle advising and mentoring services, being offered to other advanced technology companies since 1993. KTI arranged for the purchasing or licensing of patents assets and advised companies on possible utilization of new technology. Clients included Wang Laboratories, Kendall Square Research, and Tech Online. KTI also acted as an umbrella organization for companies that would be formed to develop new technologies.
Kurzweil Educational Systems (KES), formed in 1996, continued Kurzweil's interest in print-to-speech technology. KES developed the Kurzweil 3000 Reading System for Persons with Reading Disabilities. The machine displayed an image of text while it read the text aloud, allowing a student with learning disabilities to read along. Thousands of schools worldwide purchased the Kurzweil 3000. KTI sold KES to Lernout & Hauspie for $20 million in 1998.
Kurzweil's interest in medical applications for technology led to a joint venture between KTI and the American Board of Family Practice (ABFP). The Medical Learning Company (MLC) formed to design and offer online continuing education options for family physicians. In January 2000 MLC launched FamilyMed.com, an interactive medical patient simulation education system designed by KTI to improve diagnostic skills. For instance, HeartLab, a cardiac auscultation simulator, reproduced the sounds of a heart to teach doctors to learn to hear and diagnose unknown sounds in a "virtual patient encounter." The "Case of the Week" presented a complete case file, including patient history, test results, and other information, for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. The site incorporated reference and resource materials from ABFP to the multimedia environment and provided access to clinical and research journals and medical and general news. For patients the site included a National Registry of family physicians.
MLC refined and added to the content of the FamilyMed web site, renamed FamilyPractice.com. The Family Practice Virtual Lecture Series provided doctors with an opportunity to fulfill Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit requirements. Topics in the series covered geriatric agitation, pain management, drug abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other contemporary medical concerns. Doctors could send questions to the presenting doctor by electronic mail for one month after each lecture was introduced. Through an alliance with Moore Medical Corporation in early 2001, MLC offered a hyperlink to that company's web site, where member doctors could order medical, surgical, and pharmaceutical products at a discounted rate. FamilyMed.com expanded its patient services in June 2001 with the introduction of the Patient Information Center. The site provided a medical dictionary, a symptom checker, and an upgraded physician search.
In 2002 new education applications included the Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) Information Resources. This included the latest information on PAD and a monthly interactive patient case to aid doctors in learning diagnosis and treatment. In cooperation with the Medical Management Group and Advance PCS, health improvement services, MLC introduced the Bioterrorism Practical Readiness Network (Bio-PRN) to assist doctors in recognizing symptoms and treating simulated cases.
Another project in the application of artificial intelligence concerned the 1999 founding of FAT KAT, Inc., short for Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies. FAT KAT utilized self-organizing principles and statistical analysis of minute data to create an intelligent system for making predictions on stock market behavior and to assist in making decisions on stock market transactions. The sets of rules on buying and selling stock provided the basis for the system to learn from successful decisions and to eliminate those rules that contributed to poor decisions. Kurzweil sought to create a self-sustaining quantitative investment system (known as a Quant). Still in the early stages of development, FAT KAT obtained $6 million in funding for research through two private stock offerings in 2000 and 2001.
In 2000 Kurzweil founded Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies (KCAT) to offer intelligent interactive art creation programs. Ray Kurzweil's Cybernetic Poet provided assistance for the process of creating poetry and song lyrics, and "AARON" the Cybernetic Artist created original paintings, a process that can be watched with each stroke. Artist Harold Cohen developed the software over 30 years' time. Cohen taught the software his theory of color and composition and how to draw. Paintings by AARON have sold for thousands of dollars and have been displayed in renowned museums worldwide. KTI obtained an exclusive license to the AARON software. With the formation of KCAT, Kurzweil's team of programmers developed a Windows application, including a screensaver, which generated a continuous stream of original paintings, displayed a stroke at a time.
In 2001 Kurzweil founded Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Network. Inc., an online resource for people interested in artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies. In addition to a daily electronic newsletter, the site offered an archive of more than 500 articles by 70 authors, including Kurzweil. The web site emphasized artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and avatar technologies and their potential impact on society.
To demonstrate the possibilities of new technologies Kurzweil developed Ramona, a lifelike, animated character--and his alter ego. The project required a team of 50 engineers and artists, from several companies. The project combined several state-of-the-art technologies, including 3-D human scanning, computer graphics, and audio processing. A 25-year-old woman on the team was digitally scanned, including several different facial expressions; the pictures were transformed into animation. Ramona had the capacity for real-time conversation through the implementation of natural language processing technology. Under the persona of a rock star, Ramona debuted at an exclusive technology conference in February 2001. Kurzweil acted as virtual reality puppeteer behind the scenes. Kurzweil employed Ramona as an interactive "virtual hostess" at the web site, with Ramona guiding visitors through the web site and explaining technological concepts. Kurzweil expects that a "virtual personality" like Ramona will be used as a personal information assistant. By 2020, he predicts, interaction with computers will occur only through voice and gestures.
Principal Subsidiaries: FAT KAT, Inc.; Medical Learning Company (50%); Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Network, Inc.; Kurzweil CyberArt, Inc.; Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc.
Principal Competitors: Southwest Research Institute; SRI International; Voicenet, Inc.
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Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 51. St. James Press, 2003.