KurzweilAI.Net Showcases Leading Visionaries, Features Ramona, the First Lifelike, Photorealistic, Conversational Web Site Avatar

MONTEREY, Calif., February 22, 2001 - Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Network (KurzweilAI.net), a Web showcase for the ideas of leading visionaries and breakthrough Web technologies, was unveiled here today at the TED11 conference by Kurzweil AI Network, Inc.

Intended for the educated lay public, KurzweilAI.net is a place to explore the ideas of leading visionaries on the future. It "focuses on the exponential growth of intelligence, both human and machine, and the merger of the two in the future," says KurzweilAI.net ceo and editor-in-chief Raymond Kurzweil, well-known author/inventor. The site is hosted by Ramona, a real-time virtual hostess, using natural language processing, real-time facial animation, and other technologies to answer visitors' questions vocally.

A major focus of the site is the exponential growth of technology, leading to the "Singularity," which Kurzweil describes as "future accelerated technological change so rapid and profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history." Site content includes a précis of Kurzweil's forthcoming book, The Singularity is Near.

In addition, the site continues the debate started in Wired magazine last year between Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy and Raymond Kurzweil over relinquishing research in "dangerous futures" (such as nanobots, or tiny intelligent machines). It also explores current breakthroughs and future developments in "artificial brains" based on neural networks and cellular automata, immortality, virtual realities (including virtual worlds, synthetic personalities, bots, agents and teleimmersion), nanotechnology, and other far-reaching visions of the future.

First lifelike, photorealistic, conversational avatar on the web

KurzweilAI.net is also a showcase for Web technology breakthroughs. Its virtual hostess, Ramona, is the first lifelike, photorealistic, conversational avatar (virtual personality) on the Web. She's a "chatterbot" (conversational robot) that uses natural language processing to hold conversations with visitors and respond to typed questions with lip-synched speech and appropriate facial expressions.

"This represents an important near-term trend," Kurzweil says. "Over the next several years, we will be engaging in spoken dialogues with virtual personalities on web sites and over the phone. They'll act as personal information assistants and as virtual sales clerks, helping us to find information and to conduct a wide variety of transactions from making reservations to buying products. They will also represent an important new form of entertainment."

Ramona is programmed to verbally explain hundreds of "thoughts" (such as "artificial intelligence") to visitors as well as provide articles, glossary definitions, links, and other information. She also answers questions about herself and her life story, including a burgeoning career as a virtual rock star celebrity.

Also integrated with Ramona's responses is "The Brain," a visual hierarchical idea map showing how each thought, such as nanotechnology, relates to other thoughts on the site. Visitors can use it to intuitively navigate through the site's knowledge space.

Technology partners with KurzweilAI.net include LifeFX (lifelike "Stand-In" or avatar), eGain (chatterbot conversational engine), and TheBrain Technologies (hierarchical visual idea map).

Ramona is Raymond Kurzweil's female alter ego. He also demonstrated another manifestation of Ramona at the TED11 conference today: the first live virtual musical recording and performing artist-a real-time virtual reality transformation of Kurzweil.

About Raymond Kurzweil/Kurzweil AI Network

Raymond Kurzweil is the author of The Age of Spiritual Machines (achieved #1 Science Book on Amazon) and The Age of Intelligent Machines (awarded "Best Computer Science Book" of 1990 from Association Of American Publishers). He was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition system, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition system. Kurzweil has received scores of honors, including the 1999 National Medal of Technology, MIT Inventor of the Year, Carnegie Mellon University's Dickson Prize (its top science honor), awards from three U.S. Presidents, and ten honorary doctorates.

Kurzweil AI Network is a subsidiary of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc. (www.kurzweiltech.com), a research and development company. Other KTI companies include: Medical Learning Company, developer of FamilyPractice.com, a comprehensive online resource for family practice physicians, which has also developed a virtual patient; and Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies (www.KurzweilCyberArt.com), which develops artificially intelligent software to aid the creative process, including Cybernetic Poet (helps users write poetry and song lyrics) and the forthcoming AARON ("paints"original art on computer screens). In addition, Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies is currently developing FatKat (Financial Accelerating Transactions), which will use pattern recognition-based technology for predicting the stock market.

For further information, contact Kurzweil AI. Network, 15 Walnut St., Wellesley Hills, MA 02481, 781-263-0000 or info@kurzweilAI.net.