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2017 CT Hall of Fame: Ray Kurzweil and Mitch Mohr


Ray Kurzweil and Mitch Mohr will be inducted along with 10 other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Tuesday evening, November 7, at the Rainbow Room in New York.

The Consumer Technology Hall of Fame honors visionaries who have made a significant impact on the consumer technology industry. These leaders and entrepreneurs have laid the foundation for the technologies, products, services and apps that are improving lives around the world.

Ray Kurzweil and Mitch Mohr will be inducted along with 10 other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Tuesday evening, November 7, at the Rainbow Room in New York. Over the next several weeks, i3 will highlight this prestigious class. Please join us for the awards dinner as we celebrate this extraordinary group of honorees. Register for the dinner today.

Ray Kurzweil

It'd be easier to list the communications and music-making innovations that Ray Kurzweil has not influenced or prophesied. He has founded nine companies, is the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, 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. As a futurist, nearly all his predictions for technological life in the 21st century have come to fruition.

Kurzweil was born in Queens, NY, on February 12, 1948, to a pair of creative and inquisitive parents; his father, Fredric, was a noted pianist, composer and conductor and his mother, Hannah, was a visual artist. A technological future was a constant home discussion topic. When he was 12, Kurzweil was already tinkering with computers and built computing devices and statistical programs.

Kurzweil’s uncle, who worked at Bell Labs, first taught him computer science. By age 15, he developed an AI pattern-recognition software program that won him a Westinghouse Talent Search prize and a personal congratulations from President Lyndon Johnson. While a sophomore at MIT, he earned a B.S. in computer science and literature in 1970 and started a company that he sold for $100,000 plus royalties.

After inventing the first CCD flatbed scanner in 1974 and the first text-to-speech synthesizer, Kurzweil then developed the first omni-font character recognition software and put them together into the Kurzweil Reading Machine in January 1976. He started selling a version that was used to create the first major databases such as Lexus and Nexus.

In 1982, Kurzweil met Stevie Wonder, who asked if "we could use the extraordinarily flexible computer control methods on the beautiful sounds of acoustic instruments." An inspired Kurzweil developed the Kurzweil 250, the first synthesizer capable of realistically recreating the sounds and musical response of all instruments, allowing a single individual to compose and play an entire orchestral piece.

Concurrent with the development of his synthesizer, Kurzweil also founded Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, which developed the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition. In the 1990s, he created Kurzweil Educational Systems to develop pattern-recognition systems for dyslexic, blind and ADHD students. He also made KurzweilAI.net, a website devoted to showcasing scientific developments and futurist discussion.

While creating companies, Kurzweil also was writing. Five of his seven books have been bestsellers, including The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990) and The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999), which made many prescient predictions about technology that have come to fruition.

In 2000, Kurzweil launched the Kurzweil Network, which explores key breakthroughs, trends and growth of biological and machine technologies in all facets of society, including biotech, nanotech and materials science, electronics, computation, artificial intelligence, robotics, neuroscience, web, pattern recognition, virtual reality, human brain reverse engineering, and brain and body augmentation.

He is co-founder and chancellor of Singularity University and, in December 2012, was named a director of engineering at Google by Co-Founder Larry Page, heading up a team developing machine intelligence and natural language understanding.

Among Kurzweil’s many honors include the National Medal of Technology (1999); the Lemelson-MIT Prize (2001); induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2002); a Technical Grammy Award for outstanding achievements in the field of music technology (2015); 21 honorary doctorates; and honors from three U.S. presidents.

Mitchell S. Mohr

Successful realtor and boating enthusiast Mitch Mohr kept hearing the word "cellular" throughout 1982. Intrigued by this unknown new technology, Mohr visited San Diego's main library and researched it. Realizing a new opportunity, he jumped in feet first and founded Celluphone, which would become "America's Premier Master Agent" – one of the nation's largest wireless distributors and the oldest wireless agent in the country.

Mohr was born in Chicago on June 29, 1923, to Rose and Max Mohr, who moved to Los Angeles when Mohr was 8. In December 1941, just after Pearl Harbor, the recent high school graduate volunteered for the Army Air Corps, where he served as an air-traffic controller at various pilot-training postings for the duration of World War II.

After the war, he worked as a traveling salesman throughout the western U.S. In 1956, he married Nancy, started a family and then moved to San Diego in 1962. He launched and led Mitchell Mohr Real Estate, which innovated many marketing and sales techniques that were copied throughout the residential realtor industry.

Learning that cellular would launch in Los Angeles in time for the 1984 summer Olympics, Mitch and Nancy founded Celluphone in 1983. In September of that year, he signed the first authorized agent contract with AT&T AMPs, the distant predecessor of Verizon Wireless, becoming the first cellular agent west of the Mississippi. After this, Mohr installed the Motorola phone in the car where the first official cellular call was made from Los Angeles – by Mayor Tom Bradley to the Olympic torch runner outside of El Paso, Texas.

Celluphone started as a direct sales company, selling the new $2,500 car trunk installed cellular phones mostly to business and entertainment customers. Celluphone placed the first cellular phone newspaper advertisement in Los Angeles, feeding a call center and creating leads. A true “salesman’s salesman,” Mohr believed the market only would support luxury priced phones and customer-direct sales for so long. If this new industry was to last and thrive, he knew it needed to move to brick-and-mortar retail. Rather than open his own stores, starting in 1985 Celluphone started engaging with existing businesses to jump into cellular to accelerate and leverage the rollout of a new industry, creating a network of independent wireless retailers, and becoming the first "Master Agent" in wireless.

Mohr's wife, Nancy, established the company's sales style, leveraging her charm and sensibility to motivate and develop the company's retailers. Celluphone distinguished itself by supporting retailers in all aspects of their business, providing an array of services and products necessary to thrive, including wireless handsets, subscriber activation, prompt and clear commissions and reporting, training, marketing, and proprietary activation and commission technologies.

Celluphone's success in Los Angeles led to its growth, under the leadership of Mohr’s son, Mike, to San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Houston, Dallas, Austin, St. Louis and Chicago. While Celluphone worked with Cellular One, AT&T, Cingular and several MVNOs in different markets over the years, the company represented Verizon Wireless exclusively beginning in 2004.

These innovations, practices and drive, along with a reputation for credibility, enabled Celluphone to build a network of more than 2,000 retailers across the country. Celluphone's growth occurred because of a focus on the success of its customers – the retailers. Perhaps more importantly to the industry, Celluphone's and Mohr’s early advocacy for cellular helped drive the nationwide adoption of the mobile phone.

Mohr retired as a cellular legend, icon, leader and force of nature.

Stewart Wolpin

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