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Friday, January 30, 2015

Incredible inventions and bold predictions

by Mark A. Ollig

He’s been called “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes magazine.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says Kurzweil is “the best in the world at predicting the future.”

Time Magazine writer Harriet Barovic wrote: “Kurzweil’s eclectic career and propensity for combining science with practical often humanitarian – applications have inspired comparisons with Thomas Edison.”

Ray Kurzweil is a computer scientist, inventor, and futurist.

He has authored five national best-selling books, and received 20 honorary doctorates.

Kurzweil is the recipient of the 1999 National Medal of Technology.

In 2002, he was inducted into the US Patent Office’s National Inventors Hall of Fame.

He has also made some bold future predictions; but first, let’s look at a couple of his accomplishments.

In 1974, Kurzweil invented the first print-to-speech reading machine using omni-font (any font) Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology.

Kurzweil came up with the idea for this device while talking with a blind gentleman on a plane flight.

He said the blind person told him “the only real handicap that he experienced was his inability to read ordinary printed material.”

By 1976, his new Kurzweil Reading Machine was allowing the blind to read by hearing the text words from commonly printed materials, such as books, magazines, newspapers, and other text documents, using a flat-bed scanner and text-to-speech technology.

Kurzweil’s invention was demonstrated by CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, who used the device to read aloud his “And that’s the way it was, January 13, 1976” television sign-off.

By 1980, Kurzweil’s OCR technology was bought by Xerox, who then began calling it: the Xerox TextBridge.

In 1984, he introduced the Kurzweil K250 musical synthesizer.

This was the first computer-based instrument which synthetically recreated the realistic musical sound of a grand-piano, violins, drums, guitars, and other orchestra instruments.

The K250 could even play what amazingly sounded like the angelic voices of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

An NBC “Today Show” video with Gene Shalit interviewing Ray Kurzweil, while his K250 music synthesizer is being demonstrated, can be seen here:

Saturday, Feb. 7, Kurzweil will receive the 2015 Technical Grammy for his lifetime of work in the field of music technology.

Let’s move on now, to some of Ray Kurzweil’s bold, futuristic predictions.

During the 2020s, he predicts tiny nanobots (microscopic robots) will become “smarter” than our current medical technology, and will be used for treating our illnesses.

I agree. Using remote controlled and preprogramed nanobots the size of blood cells for medically treating a person’s internal injuries, or specific medical condition will likely happen.

Kurzweil also predicts machine intelligence will match a human’s by 2029.

Let’s move on to the 2030s, when humans, according to Kurzweil, will be able to upload their consciousness into a computer.

I question whether this will be our actual consciousness, or just a mirror image of it.

It’s quite the bold prediction – would you want to consciously exist inside a computer’s memory chip?

He also predicts during this time, virtual reality will begin to feel “100 percent real.”

This prediction could have us living life through virtual reality; like in one of my favorite movies, “The Matrix.”

In 2045, Kurzweil predicts we will increase our intelligence “a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our [brain’s] neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud.”

Instead of accessing the Internet cloud, humanity may end up becoming immersed inside of it.

Let’s digress back in time for a moment.

The transistor, an electronic component originally developed in AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in 1947, is used in just about every electronic device on (and off) the planet.

In 1965, computer chip-maker Intel’s co-founder, Gordon Moore stated the number of transistors per square on a computing chip which provides processing power, would double roughly every two years.

What became known as “Moore’s Law” has, so far, proved to be accurate.

With the continuing advances in nanoscale engineering, it is believed, by 2020, manufacturers will be producing transistors on computing chips the size of atoms.

Of course, science is always surprising us with its breakthroughs.

According to a Dec. 8, 2014 article in the Electronic Engineering Journal, transistors can be made the size of an electron.

The use of “single-electron transistors” or SETs, may someday be used in the next generation of quantum computing processors.

Future quantum computers will be a game-changer in the computing industry. They will be far more powerful than today’s best supercomputers.

Currently, Kurzweil is director of engineering at Google, where he leads a team in advancing machine intelligence and natural language understanding.

You can watch Ray Kurzweil in a March 20, 2014 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk video at:

Ray Kurzweil will turn 67 Thursday, Feb. 12.

A video of a 17-year-old Ray Kurzweil, when he appeared on CBS television’s “I’ve Got a Secret” gameshow from 1965, can be seen at:

Ray Kurzweil continues to track breakthroughs in science and technology via his website:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Noteworthy January patents

by Mark A. Ollig

Yours truly was researching inventions patented during the week of Jan. 26.

Surprisingly, there were some very interesting ones to be found.

For instance, on this day 140 years ago, the first electric dental drill was patented by George F. Green, of Kalamazoo, MI.

Green’s dental drill used an electromagnetic motor.

This electric dental drill provided faster relief from the tooth pain a patient normally experienced back when hand-operated, mechanical dental tools were being used.

It also assisted in preventing future tooth decay, by filing and polishing teeth.

“My invention relates to implements for sawing, filing, dressing, or polishing teeth, for drilling holes and preparing cavities, and for plugging the same. Its objects are to render dental operations more convenient, more rapid and less painful than they have heretofore been; to which ends my invention consist of an electro-magnet motor, as hereinafter more fully explained,” Green wrote in his patent application.

So, we need to thank Mr. Green, in part, for our having less tooth decay and brighter smiles, because of his invention.

George F. Green’s application was filed on Jan. 13, 1871, and was awarded US Patent 159,028 Jan. 26, 1875.

Here’s a photo of Green’s drawing taken from his patent:

It was 135 years ago this week, when the patent for the first electric lamp was awarded to T. A. Edison.

Yes indeed, folks, Thomas Alva Edison’s application was filed Nov. 4, 1878, and was approved with US Patent 223,898 Jan. 27, 1880.

“The object of this invention is to produce electric lamps giving light by incandescence, which lamps shall have high resistance, so as to allow of the practical subdivision of the electric light,” Edison wrote in his patent application.

A photo of Edison’s drawing taken from his patent is here:

This next patent is not for a device, but for a process.

The famous French chemist, Louis Pasteur, was awarded a patent for his improvement in the brewing of beer and ale, 142 years ago this week.

“Be it known that I, Louis Pasteur of the city of Paris, France, have invented certain new and useful improvements in the Process of Making Beer, for which Letters Patent were granted me in France on the 28th day of June, 1871,” wrote Pasteur in his US Patent application.

The patent for Pasteur’s better beer brewing process was awarded US Patent 135,245 on Jan. 28, 1873.

A photo of the drawing from Pasteur’s patent is here:

Many of my readers, on a hot summer day (I know, it’s January), no doubt enjoy eating a couple of scoops of ice cream placed inside a round, tasty, wafer cone.

We have Carl R. Taylor to thank for inventing a waffled, cone-shaped wafer to hold our ice cream.

His Cone-Rolling Machine, patented 94 years ago, first produced these now familiar ice-cream cones.

“This invention relates to machines for forming thin freshly baked wafers while still hot into cone shaped containers such as commonly used in dispensing ice cream. Generally, the object of this invention is to provide a machine capable of more efficiently forming cone shaped containers from flat wafers,” Taylor wrote in his patent application.

Carl R. Taylor filed his application Feb. 16, 1921, and was awarded US patent 1,481,813 Jan. 29, 1924, for his ice-cream cone-rolling machine.

Taylor’s drawing from his patent can be seen at:

Growing up, many of us boomers will remember observing the clerk at the local store operating a large mechanical, paper cash register machine, when ringing up the sale.

In the early 1880s, James Ritty and John Birch worked on an improved cash register, and wrote the following in their patent application:

“Our invention relates to an improvement in cash registers and indicators designed for the use of store-keepers and others as a means of accurately registering the total cash receipts for any given period of time – as a day, for instance – and for indicating to the customers that the amount paid has been registered by disclosing to their view such amounts upon figured tablets.”

James Ritty and John Birch filed their application Feb. 15, 1882, and were awarded US patent 271,363 Jan. 30, 1883, for their improved cash register machine.

So, the next time you nostalgically remember the sound of “cha-ching” from an old-fashioned cash register drawer being operated, you’ll think of Ritty and Birch.

Here is a photo from their patent drawing:

What new inventions will be patented this week?


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Saving Earth's information

by Mark A. Ollig 

Is there a way to preserve Earth’s data, so it survives the inescapable end of our solar system?

Some very clever scientists and physicists are saying a “communication-theoretic paradigm” model could preserve information on a cosmic scale.

They suggest storing data using general relativity over a channel analogous to space-time, using quantum information, and the quantum state of matter. 

Their answer to “how much information could be stored?” is a disappointing and succinct:,“not much.”

In case you have forgotten, our sun is heating up, and is expected to burn the last of its hydrogen reserves in 5 billion years.

This event will regrettably put Earth and all the other planets in this solar system, not only in the dark; but permanently out of luck.

Assuming our planet will last another 5 billion years (it probably won’t); we should begin work on saving Earth’s information for any future decedents living outside of our solar system. 

I know many of you are smiling and shaking your heads, but 5 billion years will be here sooner than you think.

And when that time arrives, all data stored about our lives here on Earth, and the data located anywhere else in this solar system, will be wiped clean. 

Anybody have any ideas?

What about saving Earth’s data using those CD/DVD-like M-Discs made by Millenniata that I wrote about Aug. 22, 2011?

While M-Discs are truly remarkable, they’re only guaranteed to safely store the data recorded on them for 1,000 years.

We need a longer-lasting storage medium.

What about storing the data using glass?

Many of my faithful readers will recall the Oct. 1, 2012 column about the glass-storage technology developed by electronics titan, Hitachi.

They were able to use a laser beam to generate coded digital data onto a thin piece of quartz glass. 

Hitachi said 40 megabytes of data could be stored on one square inch of quartz glass for “100 million years.” 

“Just imagine . . . yours truly could store all of his treasured Bits & Bytes columns inside a small square of quartz glass – where they could still be readable in 100 million years,” I excitedly wrote.

While 100 million years is better than 1,000, we are still faced with the impending doom of our precious data in just another 4.9 billion years. 

I ask this question: “How can we save, from an impending interplanetary galactic disaster, the information accumulated by all of humanity, and of course, from our artificially intelligent, autonomous robotic population?”

Maybe I am thinking too far ahead. 

Let’s approach this subject from a slightly different tack.

Actually, an attempt at preserving information about Earth, and the lives of the people living here, has already been undertaken. 

This attempt was made in 1977, when NASA launched two Voyager space probes.

Today, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft are still operational; and continue traveling further away from Earth.

Each Voyager spacecraft is 66 feet long, 12 feet wide, 7.5 feet tall, and weigh 1,700 pounds.

Voyagers 1 and 2 have the best chance of escaping our eventual celestial cataclysm; taking with them information about Earth, its culture, and its people. 

A “golden record” is attached to each Voyager. 

Each golden record includes recorded sights and sounds, engraved diagrams, and text from this planet.

They also contain our planet’s location, a variety of Earth’s sceneries and unique sounds, human greetings spoken in various languages, music, and images of how people lived on Earth.

This information is etched onto a 12-inch phonographic, gold-plated copper disk (golden record).

A drawing instructs whatever intelligence that finds it how to retrieve the information from the golden record.

A stylus, cartridge, and instructions needed to play the golden record, are fastened to the spacecraft. 

According to NASA, Voyager 1 is furthest from Earth, and has left our solar system. 

It is now traveling through interstellar space at a speed of 38,100 miles per hour, and is currently 12.2 billion miles from Earth. To put this into perspective, Earth’s average distance from the sun is approximately 93 million miles. 

In 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will be within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. 

It was believed in 1977, that this star might have planets in close proximity possessing an intelligent civilization.

NASA is still receiving Voyager 1 and 2’s telemetry data, and is able to send commands to both, via the Deep Space Network. 

A golden record, containing information about our existence and our world, continues its journey through interstellar space.

It is hoped, a logical, reasoning intellect will someday discover one of the Voyagers, learn of our existence, and understand that, “We were here.”

NASA’s Voyager Mission Operations Status Report on both spacecraft can be seen at

“Voyager the Interstellar Mission” web page is