[Ray Kurzweil] [book] [excerpts] [press] [links]

Excerpts from the Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
(Cover Review on January 3, 1999)

"Kurzweil's gives you the most bits for your buck... He has an engaging discussion of the future of virtual sex once the technology includes realistic haptic simulations (what other bodies feel like to touch); here he envisages the eventual triumph of the virtual over the real. His book ranges widely over such juicy topics as entropy, chaos, the big bang, quantum theory, DNA computers, quantum computers, Godel's theorem, neural nets, genetic algorithms, nanoengineering, the Turing test, brain scanning, the slowness of neurons, chess playing programs, the Internet -- the whole world of information technology past, present and future. This is a book for computer enthusiasts, science fiction writers in search of cutting-edge themes and anyone who wonders where human technology is going next." - Collin McGinn

"How much do we humans enjoy our current status as the most intelligent beings on earth? Enough to try to stop our own inventions from surpassing us in smarts? If so, we'd better pull the plug right now, because if Ray Kurzweil is right, we've only got until about 2020 before computers outpace the human brain in computational power. The Age of Spiritual Machines is compelling and accessible... Instead of being a gee-whiz futurist manifesto, Spiritual Machines reads like a history of the future, without too much science fiction dystopianism. Instead, Kurzweil shows us the logical outgrowths of current trends, with all their attendant possibilities. This is the book we'll turn to when our computers first say 'hello.'" - Therese Littleton

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
by Ray Kurzweil
Penguin paperback | 0-14-028202-5
Business 2.0 (January, 1999)
"Soul of a New Machine: Ray Kurzweil ranks as one of the most luminous minds in modern technology. Famous for such brain extenders as advanced speech-recognition systems, the first reading machine for the blind, and the first computer music keyboard capable of accurately reproducing the sounds of the grand piano, Kurzweil, 50, continues to push and create frontiers with The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking, Jan. '99). The book is an ambitious blueprint for the future, mapping out the next century of technological evolution and exploring the moment when PCs will attain and then surpass the capabilities of the human brain." - James Daly

Forbes (November 30, 1998)
"Ray Kurzweil's book is a real stunner. He predicts that in the fairly near future people will be half-human, half-machine... Kurzweil, 50, is not just a dreamer. Over the past 25 years, he has built and sold four companies." - Daniel Lyons

Sunday Boston Globe Book Review Section (Cover Review on December 27, 1998)
"The machine of a new soul: Ray Kurzweil has a better record than most at foreseeing the digital future. His 1990 book, ''The Age of Intelligent Machines,'' anticipated with uncanny accuracy most of the key computer developments that unfolded during the '90s.

Kurzweil's credentials as computer guru are impeccable. He is inventor of the first commercially marketed speech-recognition system, the first computer music keyboard capable of accurately reproducing the sounds of real orchestra instruments, the first system that can recognize all forms of alphabetic characters, the first system for text-to-synthesized-speech, and other key developments in making machines behave more like us.

When his earlier book was published, Kurzweil's predictions seemed boldly futuristic, pushing the envelope of science fiction. But if anything, his prognostications were conservative...

In his new book, ''The Age of Spiritual Machines,'' Kurzweil now predicts that computers will pass the Turing test within 20 years, although the outcome of the test will for a time be controversial. Within 30 years he believes machines will claim to be conscious, and that these claims will be widely accepted. Further, he believes that late in the next century machines will far surpass human intelligence...

His predictions are based on a well-established trend and on a strategy for developing artificial intelligence... $1,000 worth of machine will achieve the computing power of the human brain by the year 2020, and exceed the computing power of all humans on the planet by 2060.

Kurzweil paints a tantalizing - and sometimes terrifying - portrait of a world where the line between humans and machines has become thoroughly blurred.

All of which challenges one of our most earnestly held beliefs, about the uniqueness and transcendence of the human soul.

Kurzweil's new book, like its predecessor, is a welcome challenge to beliefs we hold dear. Welcome, because we can shape the future only if we correctly anticipate where we are going. If we stumble into the future willy-nilly, guided only by economic forces, then the Age of Spiritual Machines is - in Kurzweil's view - inevitable, for better or worse.

And I happen to think that he is right." - Chet Raymo

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 1998)
"What will the world look like when computers are smarter than their owners? Ray Kurzweil, the brains behind some of today's most brilliant machines offers his insights in his new book, 'The Age of Spiritual Machines.' Kurzweil posits that technological progress moves at exponential rates and that a highly evolved system will continue to evolve at an increasing rate. Kurzweil's broad outlook and fresh approach make his optimism hard to resist... An extremely provocative glimpse into what the next few decades may well hold."

Wired (January, 1999)
"Deus Sex Machina: In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil foresees computers that have consciousness, compose music, and make love. Kurzweil, who invented both the synthesizer named after him and the voice-recognition program bundled with Windows 98, mixes compelling predictions and delicious presumption into his fascinating speculations about the future."

U.S. News & World Report (December 28, 1998 / January 4, 1999)
"Ray Kurzweil, principal developer of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind and author of the forthcoming The Age of Spiritual Machines, believes that by 2049, a device with the computational power of 1 billion human brains (1023 calculations per second) will cost $1,000; today, the same cash will only buy you the equivalent of an insect brain (108). Such machines will be designed by 'reverse engineering' - studying the brain with advanced scanning techniques and then mimicking its function. 'Computers will have amassed all of the world's accumulated knowledge; they'll have read all of the world's works,' says Kurzweil, who accurately forecast the emergence of the Web over a decade ago. 'They'll be sufficiently conscious to claim that they are human.'" - Brendan I. Koerner

San Francisco Chronicle (October 24, 1998)
"The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil will blow your mind. I got my hands on an advance copy, and it made my eyes bug out. Kurzweil lays out a scenario that might seem like science fiction if it weren't coming from a proven entrepreneur." - Tom Abate

EE Times (December 28, 1998)
"In 1990, Raymond Kurzweil described in his book The Age of Intelligent Machines how computers would come to be able to recognize human speech, spinning predictions that came true in less than a decade. This year, the pioneering inventor has released a bold new volume that projects his beliefs about machine intelligence deep into the next century, to envision a time when computers evolve far beyond the abilities of humans.

These bizarre predictions would be all too easy too shrug off as sheer science fiction, were it not for Kurzweil's credentials. A pioneer in music, speech recognition and text-to-speech educational software, Kurzweil was named Inventor of the Year a decade ago, in 1988, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1994 Kurzweil was awarded Carnegie Mellon's top science award, the Dickson Prize, and he won the Association of the American Publishers' award for the most outstanding computer-science book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, in 1990.

Kurzweil has been a busy man. He founded and sold off three companies that bear his name... He developed the first omni-font optical character-recognition system, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flatbed image scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first computer music keyboard capable of reproducing orchestral instruments and the first large-vocabulary speech-recognition system.

Kurzweil graduated from MIT, but has since received nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, music and humane letters from leading colleges and universities worldwide.

'People are already starting to get neural implants to cure disabilities, but eventually neural implants will be able to enhance our perceptions, our memory, our logical abilities and an endless spiral of higher-order abilities unimaginable today,' says Kurzweil." - R. Colin Johnson

Recent Articles

Time Digital (October, 1998)
"Music to Their Eyes: You won't find him belting out any duets with Stevie Wonder, but there's no doubt that Ray Kurzweil is one of the Motown singer's chief collaborators - in more ways than one.

The pioneering computer scientist developed the first synthesizer in 1984 to reproduce accurately the rich sounds of pianos and other instruments. But the reason Wonder honored his old friend at an awards ceremony last summer was his other technological breakthrough: the Kurzweil 1000, the latest, most portable version of his namesake 'reading machines.' For the past two decades, Kurzweil's brainchild has translated the printed word into speech, letting the blind listen to their work or books on a computer. Kurzweil, who has also helped advance speech recognition, says he's 'really teaching computers to recognize and create patterns of information.' Computers, he adds, need to communicate more like people. A great idea, if we could all sing like Wonder." - Maryanne Murray Buechner, Daniel Eisenberg, Jon Goldstein and Peggy Salz-Trautman

Forbes ASAP (April 6, 1998)
"Ray Kurzweil: The Ultimate Thinking Machine. Shrewd Inventor Reaches the Holy Grail of Speech Recognition. The Wunderkind, Much of Kurzweil's life has been devoted to helping the physically disabled. In the '70s, he invented a revolutionary reading machine for the blind, which led to a friendship with Stevie Wonder. In the early '80s, at Wonder's urging, Kurzweil invented the world's first computer keyboard capable of reproducing the sounds of orchestral instruments... He was also a genius. At MIT, where he earned a computer science and creative writing degree, he managed to pull down A's even though he was known as 'the phantom' because he rarely went to class... His first company, which he started in the mid-'70s, had been a success. Kurzweil Computer Products created a reading machine for the blind, which was hailed as the most significant step forward since Braille, and was later sold to Xerox for $6 million... Says futurist George Gilder, 'Ray pioneered and popularized speech recognition.' Kurzweil's long-term impact, however, is much greater than just speech recognition. His belief in the exponential growth of technology gives voice to humanity's possibilities. He is a visionary whose predictions are based on hard science. There is no way the march of technology will stop, he says, It will continue to increase exponentially until it 'ultimately creates itself.'" - Eric W. Pfeiffer

Mass High Tech (September 14-20, 1998)
"Ray Kurzweil sells out; L&H buys in... again: Ray Kurzweil has done it again. This time, he's built up a language software company and sold it for millions. This month, Kurzweil sold his company, Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc. to Lernout & Hauspie. It's the fourth company Kurzweil has sold, and it will fetch $20 million. In June, 1997, Kurzweil sold his company, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, Inc. to L&H for about $53 million... Kurzweil's product is used in 1,500 schools and educational systems so far, and was recently recognized as Product of the Year by the $150,000 SAP / Stevie Wonder Vision Awards." - Christa Degnan

Mass High Tech (August, 1998)
"Wonder lauds Kurzweil's inner Visions: It's not often that the worlds of the local technology industry and Motown musicians cross... So seeing Stevie Wonder's name on an announcement with SAP caught my eye... Known as the 'Father of the Reading Machine,' Kurzweil invented the first print-to-speech system in 1976. His company's current Kurzweil 1000 software, which won the SAP / Wonder award, converts printed words into sound on a PC by capturing text electronically via scanner and converting it into synthetic speech through optical character recognition (OCR) technology. The product was tested by a panel of industry experts and sight-impaired judges, including Wonder himself, and selected as the winner from among 200 contenders... 'Helping to overcome the handicaps associated with visual and other disabilities has long been a personal goal of mine,' he said after accepting the award... A $150,000 stipend of part of the Vision Awards. Kurzweil said he plans to donate the money for scholarships for blind students, who will also get free Kurzweil 1000 systems worth over $1,000 each. Isn't he lovely?" - Christa Degnan