Kurzweil morphs into rockin Ramona

February 8, 2002

Ray Kurzweil has done many amazing things in his life. He invented the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, wrote acclaimed books such as The Age of Spiritual Machines, and is credited with being one of our leading visionaries of our time.

His next venture? Rock stardom, dude. Specifically, he’s morphing into his 25 year old alter ego Ramona, a virtual performer who sports hip huggers and sings Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. “I’ve always wanted to be a female rock star,” says Kurzweil who is 53.

Ramona, a sort of technological puppet, is not the first computer generated persona. But it’s hard to dispute her claim as “the world’s first virtual performing and musical recording artist.”

Ramona was built to showcase virtual reality. She also appears on the home page of Kurzweil’s new company, KurzweilAI.net, which hopes to make money through its futuristic technology.

Ramona also plans to become an actual recording star — with an album and live performances. Truth be told, you wouldn’t mistake her for a “real” person, despite claims of photo realism. And her singing has a long way to go before she’s a threat to Britney Spears.

Kurzweil readily acknowledges her limitations. But for him, Ramona is a glimpse into a future where meeting virtually will be as common as meeting face-to-face. “Virtual reality is in the early stages,” he says. “But as it gets more defined. It’s going to be competitive with real reality.” By the end of the decade, we’ll all have digital doubles or triples, he says.

Even with today’s technology, Kurzweil says he actually feels as if he’s Ramona. He controls her with wires and sensors connected to his body. Using graphics and audio systems, Ramona mimics his every move and utterance. “She’s a transformation of me. I move and I see her moving. She is me. I’m becoming her.”