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Ray Kurzweil

Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: I've always been rather relentless and managed to find a way to get the resources -- the hardest one of which is my own time -- to see ideas through. That's an important aspect of success. It's just not to recognize failure. I mean, failure is just sort of success deferred. It just means it's going to just take you a little bit longer. But where an idea becomes so real to you that it absolutely is real, even though it may not be real to anybody else, and then it's just a matter of carrying out this plan that has emerged in your head, and you work backwards from this vision, from this fantasy that becomes very real, and then imagine, well, okay, how can we work backwards? If that were to exist, what would have had to have happened? And then it lays out a path that you kind of work out in reverse, and then you just follow it. You have to be very, very persistent in doing that. But persistence towards a vision usually works. That's been my experience.
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Ray Kurzweil

Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: Talent is really just one prerequisite to success. There's a lot of other factors. Certainly luck had something to do with it, and a lot of factors beyond our own efforts, in terms of having the right types of support and opportunities, and also picking the right problem. Einstein, after a few successes, picked a problem that we now know he was destined to fail at. So brilliantly pursuing a problem that you can't succeed in is -- it's pick the right problems at the right time. But most importantly, I think it's persistence, and we see again and again, whether it's in the political sphere or science, people who are really relentless about their mission -- and can see the end result even more real than what we consider concrete reality, and follow that mission with great confidence -- succeed. Very often people give up too quickly. They meet a few obstacles and think, "Oh well, that didn't work." But that confidence doesn't come from just sort of mindlessly plowing ahead. It really comes from being able to envision a reality that doesn't exist and seeing the benefit of it. So imagination is important.
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Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

I now tell the story with a smile because it's all worked out just fine, and I look back and I laugh. But through all of these peregrinations, through different fields and random walks, I was very frequently depressed about all of it, and deeply worried about this. After all, world class math student, a Rhodes scholar, won thesis prizes in mathematics. I had a great career prospect to go ahead and do pure mathematics. I discarded all of that and I wasn't sure what for, and I recriminated often about that. I worried deeply about it, that I would never really have a good position in a university, or doing anything else for that matter. So anybody who imagines that you make these transitions without tremendous agonizing is absolutely wrong. I tell the story with a laugh today, but certainly it's a very painful thing to be searching around like that, and not knowing what you really want to do. Eventually, you make enough transitions that you realize that life is about making those transitions. I still doubt I made them very gracefully. I reckon I have a few more career changes left in me, and I don't imagine I'm going to do them completely gracefully. I hope, for the sake of my wife and my kids, I do them more gracefully than the ones I've done up to now, and worry maybe a little bit less, but you take these seriously. You throw yourself into them and they matter a lot, and somehow there's great internal turmoil as you reinvent yourself and find out what you really want to do. What you have to do is balance it with a lot of fun along the way, but I would certainly be wrong to say that the whole thing was easy. It certainly, I don't think, looks easy in retrospect, and it certainly wasn't easy. What I was very blessed by was wonderful people to do it with, and wonderful help.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

I began working on two projects that were actually related. One, to see if we could actually discover the first substance that could stop cancer blood vessels from growing, and hopefully then stop cancer growth. And two, to develop plastic systems -- polymer systems -- that could slowly release these and other large molecules for a long time, so that we could test these substances. Now, before I started working on this problem, no one had been able to develop ways to continuously release these substances for a long time from bio-compatible polymers, and in fact, if you look in the scientific literature, they said actually it's impossible to do that, impossible to release these molecules. In fact, really the only thing I had going for me is I hadn't read that literature! So I actually spent about two years working on the project, and I actually found over 200 different ways to get it to not work. But finally, I made a discovery that I could modify certain types of plastics, and get them to release these molecules over a long time. Then we used these substances to create bioassays that enabled us to discover the first substances that stopped cancer blood vessels, and to help stop cancer.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

Robert Langer: I think the impact of "no" is a couple of things. For me, early on it was discouraging. It was very discouraging for me to hear that. I didn't realize that scientists were like that, and that people were like that. I would have thought -- and I like to hope -- that I encourage people rather than discourage people. I think you can say no and still say, "Boy, that might be a tough problem, but if you really work at it maybe you'll solve it," rather than, "No, it will never happen." But "no" can be very discouraging. But I think if you really believe in what you're trying to do, "no" is not going to stop you. It might be discouraging, but still, it's just somebody saying it. They don't necessarily have to be right. I think that for me, say in Dr. Folkman's case, the fact that he had people say no, and they weren't right, that was a very good role model for me to see.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

Robert Langer: I think that there is value in being disciplinary, doing something maybe narrow, but really going deep in it. But I also think that there is incredible value in what I might call convergence. That's a term we use at MIT, where you can bring disciplines together and try to solve problems in new ways. Actually, I think what has happened at MIT and now a few other places is that they actually are trying to do that. We just have a new building that I'm in now called the Koch Institute, which is aimed primarily at cancer, and half the people in the building are outstanding biologists, and half the people in the building are outstanding engineers. I have seen that happen a few other places too, like at Harvard and the University of Chicago. I think that that idea of convergence really can enable scientists to get together in unusual ways, and therefore can create unusual things. So I think both things are of value.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

Robert Langer: I think patience is really important in science, because science moves slowly. In fact, what I usually say to people, "Probably some of the most successful scientists are the ones that know how to deal with failure well." Because it's easy to feel good when you succeed. That's an easy thing. But you're probably going to fail in science a lot more than you succeed, so you really have to learn how to deal with it and not let it beat you. So I think patience is incredibly important.
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