As one of the most prolific, impactful and original inventors in the entire history of the world, Belizean-American inventor Andre Gray is responsible for many of the technologies we use today as a regular part of our daily lives. Indeed, he single-handedly revolutionized the internet and smartphone in their infancy and infused them with artificial intelligence. As the winner of the one-time, highly prestigious Johannes Gutenberg Inventor Prize in 2002, Gray is often cited as being responsible for at least 80% of how smartphones work and just as high a percentage of how the internet works, thanks to his invention of the world’s first internet bot–”inkling” in 1988. Since creating the “Internet Big Bang” on August 8, 1988, Gray has been ranked as the world’s No.1 inventor every year for the past three decades by various publications from around the world and he is widely regarded as one of the five greatest inventors of all time. We know a lot about his inventions and even certain aspects of his adult life that informed his inventions, but little about the childhood of this lone genius, so that will be the focus of this interview. But before we start the interview, here is a list of all the inventions solely credited to Andre Gray:
- (dot) RPM: Audio Codec For Computer Music– written in 1982, this is a highly influential paper on audio compression that worked out the foundational mathematical formulas for mp3, mp4, AIFF, WAV and every other audio-video codec format in the world, both past and present.
- “Internet Killed The Video Star” (1988). Gray modified the computer code for the MIDI format, which made it easy for music files to be uploaded to the internet. This is the very first song uploaded to the internet. The song, also composed and produced by Gray, is now universally acknowledged to be the internet anthem, the digital Big Bang and the birth of online digital media, which is now a multi-trillion dollar industry.
- “Inkling” the world’s very first internet bot– an AI crawler bot (1988). Internet bots now make up 75% of all internet activities.
- Voicemail Icon design (1988), Designed and programmed by Gray, the voicemail icon was initially used on the internet, especially Internet Relay Chat, and eventually on all 15 billion mobiles phones and counting.
- Retrogrooves:This is the world’s first DJ software and was invented by Gray in 1989. Today, 98% of all DJs in the world use some sort of DJing software.
- Electronic Ticket (1991). Now a trillion dollar industry.
- Ringtones and Ringbacks ( SYNC Programming Language) 1994. SYNC also holds the distinction of being the world’s first third-party downloadable app. Ringtones is on 15 billion mobile phones and the downloadable apps sector is now a trillion dollar industry.
- Mind-Over-Matter Technology (1994). This branch of science and technology uses the mind to control electronic & digital devices, thus eliminating the need for the use of hands. Neuralink, Facebook and Nissan and other major corporations were inspired by this technology and are now using it.
- Electronic Press Kit (1995). The EPK is an indispensable online marketing and branding tool. It is also the template that laid the foundation for social media. Without the EPK, there would be no social media.
- Microgrooves-E (1998). The world’s first multimedia player for the mobile phone. It had the capability of playing entire albums and recording/playback features for both video and audio. It was Microgrooves-E along with SYNC that made the smartphone what it is today.
- Online Music Sales Certifications (1999). By tracking music sales over the web, it gave birth to big data.
- SNAP (Synthesizer Algorithms Progrogramming) A vendor neutral synthesizer programming language.
- Microgrooves Digital (2016) improved vinyl records format.
- Microgrooves HD (2016) improved vinyl records format.
- Microgrooves Green T (2016) improved vinyl records format.
LA Tribune: Were you always a tinkerer as a child?
AG: Oh yes, I always had a curious mind about how things work. I was always trying to take things apart to see what was on the inside. My two older brothers were pretty good with their hands as well. The three of us even had our own tool sets at a very young age.
LA Tribune: How old were you when you got your first tool set?
AG: I believe I was about four years old. As kids, every Christmas our parents would give each of us lots of toys. We always had more toys than anyone in the neighborhood. These tool sets were actually real tools, not plastics. Our tool sets included things like a real saw, plane, hammer, level and other woodworking essentials. Amazingly, my siblings and I never harmed ourselves at all for being so young.
LA Tribune: You said your parents always gave you guys lots of toys every Christmas. What did your parents do for a living?
AG: My father was a prominent lawyer who got his law degree from the London School of Economics and my mother was a stay at home mom. By the time I was fifteen, however, she was no longer a stay at home mom.
LA Tribune: What were some of the projects you worked on as a child?
AG: I made my own kites, tops, sling shots, and small woodworking projects like lamps, paper towel holder, bread box and things of that sort.
LA Tribune: Were the kids from your school and neighborhood just as talented as you with their hands?
AG: Yes, all the boys living in Belize City, and perhaps the entire country, were naturally skilled with their hands. Whatever projects I was making at the time, they made, too. What sets me apart from the pack was when I made projects like the camera obscura, a wooden cypher and a crystal radio. I remember vividly; it was these three projects that clearly set me apart from everyone else. These three school projects were made between the ages of seven and nine and I built each one from scratch. Also, by age eleven, I was making my own mixtapes with my oldest brother’s twin-deck boombox without even realizing I was making mixtapes. I also loved making musique concrete back then, too.
LA Tribune: Speaking of music, how old were you when you got your first musical instrument?
AG: I was three years old. I remember asking my father to buy me a guitar and then for Christmas that year, I woke to lots of toys including a lovely Martin Style O Soprano ukulele in a beautiful leather case. Even though I was only a toddler, I can tell it was an expensive instrument, and so began my life-long love for ukuleles. In the following years, I would ask for and receive a Magnus Chord Organ 300, a flute and a Stylophone pocket synthesizer, among other musical instruments.
LA Tribune: At what age did you know that you wanted to become an inventor?
AG: All I know is that from the age of about three I wanted a career in music. Along the way as a child, I also fell in love with the radio and was determined to learn everything there is to learn about radios. Hence, my building a crystal radio well before the age of ten and getting a perfect score on a ham radio license exam at age thirteen. By making my own mixtapes and composing musique concrete starting at age eleven, I was also teaching myself how to produce records. So, learning all these very hands-on, technical skills prepared me for my career in technology as an inventor.
LA Tribune: What or who inspired you to want to become an inventor?
AG: Being an inventor is one of the very few professions in the world that chooses you, not the other way around.
LA Tribune: That’s a great answer, I have never heard anyone say that before nor have I read that anywhere before either.
AG: Thank you, that’s an original saying of mine.
LA Tribune: People sometimes compare you to Nikola Tesla. How do you feel about that?
AG: Nikola was a great inventor and he deserves all the credit and accolades that have been bestowed upon him posthumously. In fact, I would choose Tesla over Thomas Edison any day. And besides, we both share the same view on money.
LA Tribune: You invented Mind-Over-Matter Technology in 1994 and now Neuralink, a company backed by Elon Musk, is getting a lot of media attention for their MOM technology efforts. How do you feel about that?
AG: Ever since I invented Mind-Over-Matter Technology in 1994, many research scientists, academics and students have made significant breakthroughs and these are well documented for the world to see. I believe in open source and I applaud the success of everyone working in tech. Facebook and Nisson have also jumped on the bandwagon, and I think that is great. Mind-Over-Matter Technology and AI will be the biggest technology drivers of this century and perhaps beyond.
LA Tribune: You are credited with coining words or phrases like “Cyberpunk” “ Occupy Mars” and “Hyperloops”. How do you feel that lots of companies use these terms?
AG: I think it’s great. These things don’t bother me at all. In fact, I am flattered. I am a firm believer in open source.
LA Tribune: Is there an invention in the world today that you did not invent but wish you did?
AG: Not really, my inventions cover quite a bit of ground and I feel extremely fortunate and humble to be the person who brought them into the world.
LA Tribune: What are some of your future plans regarding inventions, philanthropy and humanitarian efforts?
AG: Starting in 2022 and beyond, I will turn some of my attention to my birth country of Belize. I want to work closely with every single orphanage in the country on initiatives like providing each orphan with his or her own laptop or tablet, building a STEM lab in every orphanage, giving each orphan a Raspberry Pi or an equivalent device, and paying for their IT certification exams like IC3, which is a global certification. As for my future inventions, I am working on multiple inventions at the moment and I feel quite optimistic about them. Also, a building in Hartford, CT will be named in my honor that will serve as the city’s largest after-school STEM program with very high technical standards. There are also two more proposed buildings in North Carolina that will be named after me and offer the same STEM curriculum. One thing is for certain, if I am going to lend my name to a building and STEM program, the building aesthetics would have to be on a five-star level and the STEM program itself would have to be second to none or the deal will not happen.
LA Tribune: Thank you for your time Mr. Gray. You are truly one of the greatest inventors of all-time.
AG: Thank you for your kind words, God bless you and be safe.