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Kurzweil Technologies
The Founders Mentoring Kurzweil Companies Contact Us About Ray Kurzweil Ray Kurzweil's Publications

In this excerpt from The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking, 1999), Ray Kurzweil describes his work in speech recognition.

I also started Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, Inc. in 1982 with the goal of creating a voice activated word processor. This is a technology that is hungry for MIPs (i.e., computer speed) and Megabytes (i.e., memory), Ray Kurzweil introduced the first large-vocabulary speech recognition 	system in 1987 so early systems limited the size of the vocabulary that users could employ. These early systems also required users to pause briefly between words… so…. you…. had…. to…. speak….. like…. this. We combined this “discrete word” speech recognition technology with a medical knowledge base to create a system that enabled doctors to create their medical reports by simply talking to their computers. Our product, called Kurzweil VoiceMed (now Kurzweil Clinical Reporter), actually guides the doctors through the reporting process. We also introduced a general purpose dictation product called Kurzweil Voice, which enabled users to create written documents by speaking one word at a time to their personal computer. This product became particularly popular with people who have a disability in the use of their hands.

Just this year, courtesy of Moore’s Law, personal computers became fast enough to recognize fully continuous speech, so I am able to dictate the rest of this book by talking to our latest product, called Voice Xpress Plus, at speeds around a hundred words per minute. Of course, I don’t get a hundred words written every minute since I change my mind a lot, but Voice Xpress doesn’t seem to mind.

We sold this company as well, to Lernout & Hauspie (L&H), a large speech and language technology company headquartered in Belgium. Shortly after the acquisition by L&H in 1997, we arranged a strategic alliance between the dictation division of L&H (formerly Kurzweil Applied Intelligence) and Microsoft, so our speech technology is likely to be used by Microsoft in future products.

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The Founders Mentoring Kurzweil Companies Contact Us About Ray Kurzweil Ray Kurzweil's Publications

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AUGUST 20, 2007

 

THE FUTURE OF WORK — MANDEL ON ECONOMICS

Which Way To The Future?
Globalization and technology are drastically changing how we do our jobs—and that’s both a promise and a problem

podcast

COVER STORY PODCAST
 

The “Future of Work” is hardly a new topic. In fact, over the past quarter century, at least 20 books have used that phrase as part or all of their title.

So with all the words spilled on this question already, why is BusinessWeek addressing it now? The answer is simple: The U.S. and the global economies are coming to a crossroads that no one could have anticipated just a few years ago. Globalization and technology together are creating the potential for startling changes in how we do our jobs and the offices we do them in. Offshoring, for one, means work can be broken into smaller tasks and redistributed around the world. And the rapid growth of broader, richer channels of communication—including virtual worlds—is transforming what it means to be “at work.”


Yet despite the technological and organizational progress, it’s not clear whether we should look ahead to the future of work with enthusiasm or fear. Are Americans’ jobs going to become more interesting and complex as rote tasks are moved offshore or eliminated by technology? Or will managers and workers be ground down by competitive pressures that leave little time or room for creativity and innovation?Truth is, the trends prevailing in today’s workplace provide ammunition for optimists and pessimists alike.

On the positive side, employers are hiring workers with higher and higher levels of education, and jobs are demanding ever more sophistication. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34% of adult workers in the U.S. now have a bachelor’s degree or better, up from 29% 10 years ago. What’s more, the modern workplace no longer resembles the factory assembly line but rather the design studio, where the core values are collaboration and innovation, not mindless repetition. Talented people are still in high demand, and there’s no evidence yet that work has become less interesting because of outsourcing. “On balance, I don’t think that jobs are being fragmented,” says Paul Osterman, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Fully 60% of respondents to a BusinessWeek poll expect working conditions for the average person to be better in 10 years than they are now. That’s according to an online survey of 2,000 U.S. executives and managers done in late June and early July. And in the same poll, 82% of respondents said that self-fulfillment will be a more powerful motivator than fear if we look 10 years out.

Then again, there are persistent signs that the gloomier outlook is gaining traction as well. Job satisfaction in the U.S. plummeted in 2006 to a record low. That’s according to a survey of 5,000 households done for the Conference Board. Only 47% of workers were satisfied with their jobs in 2006, down from 59% in 1995. “The demands in the workplace have increased tremendously,” says Lynn Franco, director of consumer research for the Conference Board, especially as technology has made it ever harder to get away from the job.

Even more disturbing, two decades of rising incomes for educated workers seem to have come to a halt, at least temporarily. When adjusted for inflation, the real wages and salaries of U.S. workers with at least a bachelor’s degree are barely higher than they were in 2000, an unpleasant surprise in a world in which education is seen as the route to success.

The wage stagnation, combined with the 60% rise in college tuitions since 2000, seems to be discouraging many young Americans from getting a college education. The percentage of 25- 29-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree has actually fallen during this decade. This raises the real possibility that this generation of young Americans may actually be less educated than the previous one, creating a growing gap between the kinds of people companies need and the workers who are actually available.

What can you do? Whether you are a manager or worker, this Special Report provides the intellectual tools and information you need to move toward the more optimistic vision. We’ll look at the future of work—both in the short run and much farther out—from the best way to manage a global virtual team to the pros and cons of branding yourself, to the seemingly farfetched use of brain chips—yes, brain chips—to enhance your capabilities.

The first section examines work from the perspective of managers, focusing in particular on how to get an organization full of people from different cultures and backgrounds to collaborate efficiently and effectively. That’s not an easy task, but we’ll see how global giants, such as IBM (IBM ), Nokia (NOK ), and Dow Chemical, (DOW ) are able to accomplish it. Meanwhile, successful Indian companies—among them Infosys Technologies Ltd. (INFY ) and Satyam Computer Services (SAY )—demonstrate how they recruit, train, and retain workers in a hyper- competitive environment.

The next section peeks into the future from the perspective of workers. We’ll explain how to avoid being “Bangalored” or “Shanghaied”—that is, having pieces of your job sent overseas. Our report’s reassuring message: “The offshoring trend is moving with the speed of a road paver rather than a hot rod, so there’s time for alert Americans and Europeans to scramble out of the way.” That means moving up the value chain to take advantage of new opportunities. It also can mean literally moving from one country to another, as we describe how Europe’s mobile labor force easily crosses national borders, perhaps giving a glimpse of where the rest of the world is heading.

Finally, the third section of the Special Report considers the impact of technology on the workplace, ranging from improved telecommuting to new techniques that help sleep-deprived workers, a serious problem in many occupations. In the future, advances in communication could enable new forms of workplace organization and mass collaboration of an unprecedented sort.

Beyond that, we ask: Will this be an invigorating “new world of empowered individuals encased in a bubble of time-saving technologies? Or will it be a brave new world of virtual sweatshops…?” For example, Wikipedia, the tremendously successful online encyclopedia, harnesses the efforts of thousands of volunteers to create something of great utility to society. But using a similar innovation in a profit-making corporation carries both enormous promise and problems.

In fact, the emerging ways that the workplace is being restructured have not yet been stress-tested. They have evolved in a period of rapid global growth, and no one knows how they will react if the world economy hits a rocky patch. We have entered uncharted territory—and that’s why this special report offers guideposts rather than a Google-esque road map.

Still, when the future of work comes to pass, will it be a bright or bleak one for most people? “I’ll be optimistic,” says MIT’sOsterman. We are, too.

 READER REVIEWS

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OCTOBER 22, 2007

 

NEWS

What in the Web Are They Thinking?
Believe it or not, the crazy sums tech and media giants are paying for startups may ultimately make sense

In Silicon Valley, they love to say it’s not about the money. Yet in late September privately held online social network Facebook, with an expected $150 million in 2007 sales, sought new investment based on a stunning $10 billion-plus valuation. A few days later, a financial opinion Web site, 24/7 Wall St., speculated that TechCrunch, a blog that grosses about $200,000 a month, might fetch $100 million or more from an acquirer such as CNET Networks (CNET ). Now there’s talk that RockYou!, the second-largest maker of software “widgets” that add features to social networks such as Facebook, might seek up to $500 million to sell out. No matter that RockYou denies it. Or that, by several estimates, the sum total of monthly Facebook widget advertising revenue is less than $1 million.

None of those deals has come to pass, and maybe none will. Google (GOOG ) is real enough, though, and its stock price shot past 600 on Oct. 9, giving the search giant even more power to buy up companies. These lofty valuations have a lot of people in Silicon Valley and beyond squirming. They worry about a replay of the dot-com boom, which peaked early in 2000, only to crash later that year. “Companies like Facebook are driving everybody bananas,” says Sumant Mandal, managing director at Clearstone Venture Partners.

But the bubble chatter misses the point. Buyouts by established companies, from Google, Microsoft (MSFT ), Yahoo! (YHOO ), and eBay to News Corp. (NWS ) and CBS (CBS ), bubbly as they may appear, serve a valid strategic purpose. Marketers and media companies alike fervently believe there are lucrative opportunities to get people engaged with their brands, products, and ads in ways Madison Avenue could never dream of.

Fantastical valuations signal an important transformation in the Web economy, one that will shake things up even more than the dot-com bust did. The Web is changing from a place where people find information, entertainment, and products over to a social medium where they share videos on YouTube and communicate with friends on Facebook.

ACQUISITION BINGE
Consider Microsoft, which was said to be interested in buying a 5% stake in Facebook for up to $500 million. That’s 2% of Microsoft’s $23 billion stash of cash and short-term investments–chump change for pole position on the emerging new Web. And the downside of betting too much is minimal. As if to prove the point, when eBay recently took a $1.4 billion writedown on its $2.6 billion acquisition of Internet phone service Skype in 2005, its stock actually rose slightly. Investors had already written it off themselves.

And so the race continues to heat up. In August, Microsoft closed on its $6 billion acquisition of online ad firm aQuantive. Yahoo recently bought online office productivity software maker Zimbra for $350 million and ad network BlueLithium for $300 million. Google alone has bought 11 Web outfits so far this year, about double last year’s pace, including a “microblogging” service called Jaiku on Oct. 9.

Media companies are accelerating their activity, too, making News Corp.’s 2005 purchase of MySpace for $580 million look reasonable. CBS, for instance, bought a far smaller, more targeted music site called Last.fm in May for $280 million, a price that one venture capitalist says was more than five times what he expected. Notes Reid Hoffman, chairman of professional networking site LinkedIn and an angel investor in Facebook and other Web startups: “Strategy is a lot more important than cash to these companies.”

GRANDIOSE EXPECTATIONS
That said, rationales for some valuations can get rather creative. Some members of the fast-growing Facebook ecosystem pin their analyses on the idea that the company could become the next Google. Lee Lorenzen, CEO of Altura Ventures, which recently launched a fund for companies building applications for Facebook, even makes the case that Facebook is worth $100 billion. He’s assuming that various new kinds of ads and e-commerce will help Facebook produce $2.2 billion in profits by the end of 2008.

Not surprisingly, others are aghast at this kind of analysis. Anant K. Sundaram, a finance professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, notes that the only way Facebook’s value can get to $10 billion is by assuming much higher, sustained growth in users and revenue than the fabulously profitable Google. “I look at this valuation and go, ‘This is silly,'” says Sundaram. Even if Facebook somehow fulfills these projections, he warns, “the mistake would be for the rest of the world to make decisions based on that valuation.” Indeed, imagine what happens if the economy cools further, taking online advertising with it, and Google reports a quarter that misses analysts’ expectations? A stock swoon might slow Google’s and other companies’ buying binge.

But for now, Google can still spend big, and tech and media executives feel they need to keep pace in building the new Web. In a sense, startups themselves, rather than silicon chips and disk drives, are becoming the raw materials of Silicon Valley. Each provides a small, modular piece of the end product; each gets acquired and assembled by the likes of Google and News Corp.–which, after all, are the ones that really know how to make money.

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The New York Times

Internet-Era Magazine Is Revived to Look at the Future

Published: February 4, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — One of the signature publications of the first dot-com boom is being reincarnated.

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Thor Swift for The New York Times

Derek Butcher, vice president and general manager of the new Industry Standard.

On Monday, International Data Group, the trade magazine publisher based in Framingham, Mass., will restart The Industry Standard as an online-only technology news site with a twist: readers will be asked to wager virtual money on whether various anticipated news developments and business deals in high-tech are likely to happen.

So-called prediction markets are seen as a way to use the wisdom of crowds to forecast future events, such as who will win the presidential election or the Super Bowl. On sites like the Hollywood Stock Exchange (www.hsx.com), NewsFutures (www.newsfutures.com) and TradeSports (www.tradesports.com), people can bet on the outcomes of films, news and sporting events. The new Industry Standard will extend that model to news about the Internet at www.thestandard.com.

The Industry Standard is a familiar brand to most people in high-tech. Ten years ago, I.D.G. began it as a weekly magazine based in San Francisco.

It became known as much for embodying the initial wave of dot-com hyperbole as for reporting on it: the magazine grew thick with ads from Internet companies and held industry conferences and rooftop networking parties before ad pages and subscriptions withered in the Internet bust.

Its parent company, Standard Media International, sought bankruptcy protection from creditors in August 2001. I.D.G., a major investor in the company, acquired many of its remaining assets, including the Web site and brand name.

Then for six years, I.D.G. did nothing with it.

“It was pretty dormant for the most part,” said Derek Butcher, vice president and general manager of the new Industry Standard. “But recently, we started thinking that there seemed to be a lot of equity left in the brand. People seemed to have a lot of love and respect for it,” he said.

The site, which goes live on Monday, will feature short contributions on a variety of high-tech topics from freelance writers, who will be paid around $300 a post.

But the centerpiece of the new site is the predictive market. When people register for the site, they will receive 100,000 “Standard Dollars,” which they can use to wager on such propositions as “another company will emerge as a suitor for Yahoo” or “TiVo will be bought by the end of the year.”

The listings, which can be suggested by readers but must be approved by The Standard’s editors, will each have associated odds. If the chances are 50 percent that “Google and Dell will team up to make a mobile phone” and it actually happens, a reader would double his money.

Standard Dollars can be exchanged for prizes but will probably be used on the site as a symbol of a person’s reputation for success, Mr. Butcher said.

Prediction markets have been evangelized in the writings of Thomas W. Malone, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is advising I.D.G.

Professor Malone says prediction markets can tap into the hidden wisdom of crowds, drawing out expertise and insider knowledge.

Google and Microsoft use prediction markets to bet not only on industry events but also on whether a certain product might be shipped on time, Professor Malone said. The results of the betting, he said, often reveal internal problems that managers may not know about.

“Prediction markets provide a way of integrating information from many different people very quickly and effectively,” Professor Malone said. “That is one reason to believe the kind of thing The Industry Standard is doing is a harbinger of something that is going to be much more common in the future.”

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Red Hat not impressed with Microsoft’s interoperability plans

By Ryan Paul | Published: February 21, 2008 – 07:27PM CT

Microsoft announced this morning that it plans to commit to open standards and improved interoperability, but more than a few observers are wary of the software company. Red Hat executive vice president and general counsel Michael Cunningham has joined critics in voicing skepticism of Microsoft’s statement. Like the European Commission, which noted Microsoft’s long history of empty promises in a statement earlier today, Cunningham believes that real change is unlikely.

Cunningham outlines three areas where Microsoft could demonstrate the legitimacy of its willingness to commit to open standards. According to Cunningham, Microsoft should adopt full support for the OpenDocument Format, offer downstream patent grants that would enable Microsoft protocols to be supported in open source software applications, and level the playing field by expanding to its promise not to sue open source software developers to cover commercial open source developers:

“Instead of offering a patent license for its protocol information on the basis of licensing arrangements it knows are incompatible with the GPL—the world’s most widely used open source software license—Microsoft should extend its Open Specification Promise to all of the interoperability information that it is announcing today will be made available… There is no explanation for refusing to extend the Open Specification Promise to ‘high-volume’ products, other than a continued intention on Microsoft’s part to lock customers into its monopoly products, and lock out competitors through patent threats.”

Red Hat’s skepticism isn’t surprising, since Microsoft has previously refused to work on interoperability with Linux vendors that don’t enter into dubious intellectual property agreements. Ultimately, true interoperability best serves the end user when it is based on unencumbered standards. If Microsoft was really serious about open standards and interoperability, the company should commit to making its protocols accessible to all developers, commercial and noncommercial alike, without requiring patent licensing agreements.

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Media February 7, 2008, 5:00PM EST text size: TT

Generation MySpace Is Getting Fed Up

Annoyed with the ad deluge on social networks, many users are spending less time on the sites

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If you want to socialize with Chris Heritage, you won’t find him on Facebook. The 27-year-old Port St. Lucie (Fla.) business analyst joined the social network last year after his buddies bugged him to get an account. But he soon became fed up with the avalanche of ads, especially those detailing what his friends were buying, and he quit the site in November. Now, Heritage expresses himself through a blog, happy to pay $6 a month to publish on a promo-free Web site. “It’s worth it to not have to look at the ads,” he says.

Uh-oh. Social networking was supposed to be the Next Big Thing on the Internet. MySpace, Facebook, and other sites have been attracting millions of new users, building sprawling sites that companies are banking on to trigger an online advertising boom. Trouble is, the boom isn’t booming anymore. Like Heritage, many people are spending less time on social networking sites or signing off altogether.

The MySpace generation may be getting annoyed with ads and a bit bored with profile pages. The average amount of time each user spends on social networking sites has fallen by 14% over the last four months, according to market researcher ComScore. MySpace, the largest social network, has slipped from a peak of 72 million users in October to 68.9 million in December, ComScore says. The total number of people on such sites is still increasing at an 11.5% rate, but that’s down sharply from past growth rates. “What you have with social networks is the most overhyped scenario in online advertising,” says Tim Vanderhook, CEO of Specific Media, which places ads for customers on a variety of Web sites.

WISHFUL THINKING?

Advertising on social networking sites is growing fast. Last year global ad spending on these sites shot up 155%, to $1.2 billion, says researcher eMarketer. This year, eMarketer expects it to jump 75%, to $2.1 billion. During its Nov. 4 earnings call, News Corp. (NWS) gave an upbeat forecast for Fox Interactive Media, which includes MySpace.

But the forecasts for torrid growth may prove unrealistic. Besides the slowing user growth and declining time spent on these sites, users appear to be growing less responsive to ads, according to several advertisers and online placement firms. If advertisers can’t figure out how to reverse these trends, social networking could end up as a niche market in the online ad world, smashing hopes and valuations across Silicon Valley.

The current strength in advertising on social networks may be exaggerated by guaranteed ad deals and hopeful experimentation. Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT), in hot competition with each other, promised a number of sites a minimum amount of advertising revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to place ads on those sites.

But the early results from those deals are mixed. On Jan. 31, Google said it didn’t generate as much revenue from social networking ads as expected. Google, which has a $900 million guaranteed deal with MySpace for placing ads alongside search results, says existing ad approaches aren’t working well on social networks so far. “I don’t think we have the killer, best way to advertise and monetize social networks yet,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

When News Corp. reported its earnings, it said revenues for Fox Interactive Media surged 87%, to $233 million. But $62 million of that came from Google’s guaranteed deal with MySpace. It’s unclear whether Google, which ad experts believe is losing money on the deal, will sign similar agreements in the future.

Another big slug of ad revenue is coming from companies experimenting with social networks because they are such a popular new medium. But for some, the results have not been encouraging. Many of the people who hang out on MySpace, Facebook, and other sites pay little to no attention to the ads because they’re more interested in kibitzing with their friends.

Social networks have some of the lowest response rates on the Web, advertisers and ad placement firms say. Marketers say as few as 4 in 10,000 people who see their ads on social networking sites click on them, compared with 20 in 10,000 across the Web. Mark Seremet, president of video game publisher Green Screen, stopped advertising on MySpace last spring because of a 13-in-10,000 response rate. “It’s really hard to make money on that anemic click-through rate,” says Seremet.

MySpace and Facebook recognize the issue but say increased targeting and other innovations will spur users to pay more attention. Last fall, both rolled out programs allowing marketers to pitch products to people in hundreds of categories of interest, such as fashion and sports. News Corp. President Peter Chernin said on Feb. 4 that response rates on MySpace improved as much as 300%. Owen Van Natta, chief operating officer at Facebook, says there will be more experimentation in the future. “There’s so much innovation that needs to happen,” he says.

But there’s a catch-22: More aggressive ad programs can lead to more frustrated users. Ryan Lake, 34, just left MySpace because of the ads. “There are so many, and they are getting more and more obtrusive,” he says.

Facebook, the second-largest social networking site, which continues to grow rapidly, introduced an ad program in November, called Beacon, that alerted users to the purchases of friends in hopes of spurring sales. More than 75,000 Facebook members signed an online petition against the effort. Carol Kruse, Coca-Cola’s (KO) vice-president for global interactive marketing, says that while she thinks social networks present a big opportunity, Coke is avoiding Beacon for now.

MySpace has had complaints, too. Nina Pagani, a 20-year-old New York student, grew furious last year when MySpace began automatically posting on users’ home pages notifications of friends’ favorite products. “Your personal MySpace page became an advertisement,” she says. Pagani, a five-year MySpace member, deleted her account in December. “It caused too much drama in my life,” she says.

Ante is Computer Editor for BusinessWeek . Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York .

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