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Ray Kurzweil: Q&A on technology & educationVanessa B Ira. The Exceptional Parent. Boston: Jun 2003. Vol. 33, Iss. 6; pg. 30 Abstract (Summary)Ira interviews Ray Kurzweil, an inventor, author and futurist. In teaching students with special needs or learning disabilities, Kurzweil suggests the building of specific capabilities into the products that support teacher needs. He stresses that the most effective strategy is to make the technological experience gratifying and fulfilling for the student. Moreover, he mentions several technological innovations that have assisted the mobility and education of those suffering from handicaps and developmental disabilities. » Jump to indexing (document details)Full Text (947 words) Copyright Psy-Ed Corporation Jun 2003[Headnote] Hay Kurzweil, inventor, entrepreneur, author and futurist, was the principal inventor of the first omni-font optical character recognition (OCR), the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer and the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition. He has founded and developed nine companies in OCR, music synthesis, speech recognition, reading technology, virtual reality, financial investment, medical simulation and cybernetic art. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, received the National Medal of Technology and the $500,000 MITLemelson Prize. Kurzweil was also the Keynote Speaker last March at the CSUN Conference ("Technology and Persons with Disabilities") in Los Angeles, CA. EP We now have all these wonderful and useful technological tools for learning, geared towards students with special needs or learning disabilities. Yet, in one of the issues often discussed regarding the crisis in special education, one hears often that many teachers are not trained to use these tools. What steps are you and your colleagues taking to help bridge that gap? In other words, in helping prepare and train teachers to teach special needs students better?RK There are multiple strategies. One is to build specific capabilities into the products that support teacher needs, such as the ability to track the performance of individual students in a class, provide testing capabilities, and specific training modules for teachers.The most effective strategy, however, is to make the experience compelling for the student. The generation now in school has grown up with computers and is generally quite computer literate. If they find a computer experience gratifying and fulfilling a vital need, they'll have the motivation to learn how to use it. We've tried to follow both of these strategies with my company. Our philosophy is to allow the child to read their own reading materials, whether it's an assignment that is due, or personal reading from a book, rather than stale "canned" material.Overall, computers have been moving closer to human's ways of interacting, rather than requiring us to communicate like old-fashioned machines. The first computers were in air- conditioned rooms, behind glass walls, and tended to by white-coated technicians. The personal computer revolution put them on ordinary people's desks. The graphic user interface made them a bit friendlier. With the emergence of natural language and speech interfaces, we are beginning to be able to communicate with machines in the same way that we communicate with other people. The goal is to make interacting with computers a natural, intuitive experience, and to avoid specific training requirements. Enlarge 200% Enlarge 400% [Photograph] EP It seems as though we've reached a plateau in technology development. The emphasis seems to be on making more bells and whistles rather than come up with true innovation. Do you agree? If so, what do you see as the important need that edu-tech manufacturers are missing? If not, what is now being developed that will be the next breakthrough technology for people with disabilities?RK I don't agree with the premise of your question. There are always bells and whistles being experimented with, and the ones that make sense will survive. The basic power of computation has continued its remarkable exponential growth, doubling in price-performance each year. That will continue far into the future.There are many breakthroughs in the wings for people with disabilities. I mentioned natural language interfaces that will enable people with motor disabilities to interact with machines by speaking in natural language, much like talking to an always-available personal assistant. These systems are also assisting people with learning and reading disabilities.Recent work showed that nerve impulses from the brain are still working in persons with severe motor impairments due to spinal cord injuries and diseases such as ALS. We will be able to tap these signals and send them wirelessly to the muscles, thereby effectively bypassing broken pathways. There are also advances in developing artificial muscles. Another approach for physical disabilities, such as paraplegia, is the development of exoskeletal robotic systems that will enable previously wheelchair bound people to walk and climb stairs.For the blind, we will see development of pocket-size reading machines that can read real world print such as signs, package labels, LCD displays, and handouts at meetings. These systems will also provide some meaningful information about the visual landscape.For the deaf, we will see effective speech-to-text conversion systems that will provide subtitles on the world so a deaf person can read what a person is saying on the phone or in person.EP As an inventor of educational technologies, how do you work together with the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that the tools you develop are taken advantage of by the widest possible range of schools around the country? For example, making sure that other schools are not "left behind" with antiquated educational tools?RK The US Dept. of Education was one of the early supporters of the Kurzweil Reading Machine development. We are working with a number of federal and state educational agencies to provide our technology, as well as to obtain valuable feedback on how to improve it. In terms of the issue of educational tools becoming antiquated, our strategy is to rely on software solutions. As the technology is improved, the software can be easily and quickly updated. The software is also designed to automatically take advantage of more powerful hardware as it becomes available. So the software never really becomes antiquated. It is one of the byproducts of the exponential growth of computing that hardware platforms do get out of date. That's one of the prices of progress.[Sidebar] "Technology is a leveler, and so is public understanding of what people who are disabled can do." - RAY KURZWEIL Indexing (document details)Subjects: Personal profiles, Inventors, Handicapped assistance devices, Special education, Learning disabilities, Handicapped people, Technology People: Kurzweil, Raymond Author(s): Vanessa B Ira Document types: Interview Section: Technology Publication title: The Exceptional Parent. Boston: Jun 2003. Vol. 33, Iss. 6; pg. 30 Source type: Periodical ISSN: 00469157 ProQuest document ID: 355263531 Text Word Count 947 Document URL: http://www.touro.edu/library/commerdb/proxyTC.asp?http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=355263531&sid=13&Fmt=4&clientId=14844&RQT=309&VName=PQD