Michael J. Freeman

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This article is about Dr. Michael J. Freeman, an American inventor. For other people of the same name, see Michael Freeman (disambiguation).
Michael J. Freeman
Michael J. Freeman.jpg
"Everyone brings joy to my office; Some when they enter... some when they leave..."
– Sign posted on Professor Freeman's Office door at Bernard Baruch College, The Ticker (March 1976 edition)
Born Michael James Freeman
1947 (age 66–67)
Bronx, New York City, United States
Other names M. James Freeman (pen name)
Citizenship American
Education Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administrative Technology
Master of Business Administration
Bachelor of Science in Economics and Management
Alma mater City University of New York (Ph.D., 1977)
Baruch College (MBA, 1970)
City College of New York (BS, 1969)
Occupation Inventor, business consultant, entrepreneur, educator, and author
Known for Robotics, electronic educational toys, telephony, and interactive cable television
Spouse(s) Lois Freeman
Children Zachary Freeman
Parents Harry Freeman
Anne Ellison

Michael J. Freeman (born in 1947 at Bronx, New York City, United States) is an American inventor, business consultant, entrepreneur, educator, and author.[1] He is known for several popular educational toys, core technology development for modern interactive television in the United States, Canada, and Europe, touch-tone branching systems for telephony worldwide, and robotics. He had also authored more than 50 US patents, and two books.[2]

Background[edit]

Early life[edit]

Michael J. Freeman was born in 1947 in Bronx, New York City to parents Harry Freeman and Anne Ellison. He was brought up in Brooklyn, New York and was one of the two children.

Education[edit]

Freeman has a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Economics and Management from the City College of New York where he graduated in 1969. In 1970, he finished his Masters degree in Business Administration at Baruch College. In 1977, he was awarded his Doctoral degree in Business Management-Technology from the City University of New York.

Career[edit]

Inventor[edit]

In 1960, Freeman started inventing things during his early teen years. At the age of 13, he represented a school from Bronx, New York City and won first prize in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, now currently known as the Intel Science Talent Search, for inventing and demonstrating rudimentary computer memory.[3] In order for his invention to work, he created a drum with holes where pins could drop in and thus store memory. The pins were binary in nature in that they were either up or down. Then he installed the system into a box that controlled a three-foot mechanical robot, named Rudy, which could be manually directed to a spot in a different location. As the robot traveled and made turns to the left or right, pins were dropped in place. When the robot arrived at its destination, it could automatically return to its starting spot using the position of the pins, and repeat the cycle as many times as requested.[4]

Leachim[edit]

Leachim with the third grade students in Bronx, New York City Circa 1975.

Although Rudy was invented in 1960 by Freeman to demonstrate mechanical memory. In 1974, Leachim a 6 feet 200 pound robot was conceived by Freeman to show and to demonstrate that rudimentary computers could branch quickly enough to replicated speech (i.e. verbal output).[5][6][7] Leachim was also programmed with information the 3rd grade curriculum, thesaurus, relevant sections from an enclopedia as well as with attributes of each child in the class.[8] Freeman believed that kids are fascinated and more accepting of technology (at a time when technology was not particularly popular) if it was disguised as a robot. Freeman spent his own money putting together computer parts from the RCA Spectra 70 series. He chose these he once said at a computer conference in New York "because they were becoming defunct, had a single-logic computer structure, interchangeable formats, and disc storage was a fast 85 millisecond with a data rate of 156,000 bytes per second." Instead of having the data discs branch to find data Freeman instead made alterations so the branching could be utilized to select words, phonemes, and even complete sentences that he had recorded onto the computer memory discs in a robot sounding voice.

Pictogram of Leachim the robot.

He was then able to play them through a speaker system thereby allowing the machine to talkback, based on the branching algorithms Freeman installed. The computer "brains" of Leachim were built into the robot's base. Freeman introduced Leachim into a third grade class in the Bronx, New York City, where the children loved "him."[4] As one student put it, "Leachim is much better than that dumb robot in Lost in Space." Freeman then programmed Leachim with third grade curriculum information.[9] Students would "dial in" their individual three-digit code and Leachim would teach them at their level, go as slow or quickly as needed, and reinforced correct answers with information that Leachim was programmed to know each student would enjoy.[4][10] Being a robot, Leachim had no problem repeating information over and over again until a child got the answers right, and kids seemed to have no ego problems being wrong in front of Leachim. Leachim although fun for the kids was an advanced piece of computerized machinery with vast potential for this technology.[11][12]

This rudimentary rapid branching of speech and parts of speech from a computer at that time made Leachim a unique and popular Robotic machine. The US Navy inquired about a Patent license from Freeman and Leachim was covered by many types of media worldwide, including Time magazine, Scholastic magazine, all the news networks, international media including Paris Match magazine, and others.[4][13][14]

Educational toys[edit]

2-XL[edit]
Main article: 2-XL
Left: The 2-XL educational toy robot distributed by Mego Corporation in 1975. Right: The 2-XL version with its cassette tapes distributed by Tiger Electronics in 1992.

In 1975, Freeman invented and patented 2-XL, an educational toy robot. Later he refined and added further Patent protection which included a smaller and simpler form of Leachim that interactively responded to questions asked by users using an eight-track cartridge tape,[3][15] but 2XL doesn't merely look for a right answer. It provides give-and-take necessary for learning to think.[16] Freeman's aim in creating the toy robot was to entertain and educate, hence the name 2-XL (which was derived from the phrase "to excel").[17] During that time educational toys were not considered profitable and the toy required a large sum of money for it to be manufactured. Freeman initially offered the toy to different toy companies but was rejected. In 197, he offered it to Mego Corporation a toy company based in New York City headed by toy executive Martin Abrams.[18] Mr. Neal Kublan was executive vice-president of Mego at that time. Both men liked the concept and further developed it as a toy.[19] The toy became a best seller in the late 1970s.[20][21] 2-XL was sold in many other countries, and the tapes, created and voiced by Freeman in English, were translated into six foreign languages.[17] Games were developed for 2-XL, as well including several board games such as Robotstronomy, Robottrivia, and Trilex. 2-XL's branching technology became so sophisticated some research writers considered it a robot with a mind of its own and others reviewed it as providing a wealth of interactive experiences.[22] Due to the declined of sales, the toy was discontinued in 1981.[18] However, Freeman re-introduced the toy to Tiger Electronics, an American toy company based in Vernon Hills, Illinois, in 1992. Tiger re-manufactured 2-XL, under the license from Freeman, in a more sleek design.[23] Using cassette tapes, 2-XL again became a major commercial success. Freeman did the voice for this version,[17] as well including supportive appearances in US media. As before, the programmed tapes were translated into many foreign languages and sold internationally[24]<http://2-xl.net/?page_id=171#International_Tapes/ref>.

The toy's success also became the basis of a TV game show called Pick Your Brain which was produced by Marc Summers Productions and Summit Media Group. The 2-XL robot in the show served as the assistant of Marc Summers, the game show host, and was voiced by Greg Berg.[25]

The programming behind 2-XL's technology was stored in multi-tracks on the tapes used within 2-XL. Each track containing the recording of the tape's program and individual responses. Users were then asked to press buttons to answer questions, giving the impression that the toy was interacting with them.[26] By "stacking" or delaying in time these various tracks, Freeman accomplished memory and branching that exceeded the number of tracks available. "2-XL's importance in history should not be underestimated: he made possible an experience society was only beginning to imagine."[27]

Talk 'n Play[edit]
Main article: Talk 'n Play

Talk 'n Play (also called Electronic Talk'Play) was considered one of the best toys of the 1980s.[28] It was a character based interactive toy created by Freeman in 1984. It was first manufactured under the license from Freeman by CBS Toys within the Child Guidance brand. Later in 1986 the toy was brought back and manufactured by Hasbro under the Playskool brand.[28] The toy, Talk 'n Play, was actually a cassette player but used all 4 channels at the same time and had color-coded buttons which children pressed in order to hear different responses. Each cassette was paired with an illustrated book. The child would turn pages of the book as the interactive program instructed.[29] "The toy spurned creativity in children and was considered one of the best toys of the 1980s decade and was manufactured to be an excellent educational and entertainment system."[30][31] The toy can also be was also used as regular tape recorder for listening, and had a built-in microphone for recording.[30] Freeman after weeks of negotiation was one of the first people to get Sesame Street (Children's Television Workshop) and The Walt Disney Company who were generally strong competitors at that time, to work together on the same project. Electronic Talk 'n Play was thereby licensed by Children's Television Workshop, the Walt Disney Company, and others which then created programs for Talk 'n Play under Freeman's patent. With this license the toy allowed interaction between children and the characters of Big Bird, Elmo, Mickey Mouse, and others for the first time.[32][33][34] Talk'N Play was a significant asset in Hasbro's balance sheet.[35]

Electronic Talk'N Play was reintroduced to the toy market by toy company Kiddesigns in 1993. It was billed as the only toy that could let kids respond, interac and learn from their favorite characters. The toy was discontinued after two years.[36] See photos of Talk'N Play here.[37]

Kasey the Kinderbot[edit]
Main article: Kasey the Kinderbot

Kasey the Kinderbot[38] was a toy robot for children ages three to seven years-old,[39][40] and prepare them for school.[41] It was the first electronic educational toy distributed by Fisher-Price an American toy company based in East Aurora, New York under patent license from Freeman.[42] The toy had the capability to teach kids 40 different learning skills it was equipped with coordinated movement of the head, neck, and arms, encompassed a visual screen, light up buttons and speech all driven by a microprocessor. The toy could teach math, reading, phonics, spelling, words and introduced problem solving and music. It also had cartridges that could teach science, math and several language skills in English and French English, and French.[40][43][44] In November 2002, the toy was awarded as one of the "Best Toys of 2002" by Parents magazine.[45][46] It was also featured by the editors of Nick Jr. magazine as one of the “Best of 2002,” and was awarded with the Gold Seal award in the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio 2003.[47] The toy was also one of the best selling toys of 2002,[48][49][50] with 13 thousand pieces sold in just one week.[51] On August 18, 2002, The Washington Times noted that in a world where most of the children play violent video games for hundreds of hours, Kasey the Kinderbot was a great non-violent and educational alternative toys for parents.[52] Freeman did not do the voice for Kasey. Although Kasey's voice was digital, the initial recordings were studio mastered by a professional female voice over artist named Kamala Kruszka.[53][54] See photos here[55]

Kasey continued to have strong sales in 2003.[56] In 2004, The Kasey the Kinderbot line expanded with the introduction of two lower price point friends for toddlers: Toby the Totbot and Fetch the Phonicsbot plus a new entertainment DVD featuring stories about Kasey for the fall. Toby was described by Fisher-Price an "adorable talking Totbot that teaches learning fundamentals like letters, numbers and shapes." In Kasey the Kinderbot style, Toby came to life with plenty of singing and dancing too. Fetch the Phonicsbot was an interactive puppy that could teach basic reading skills like letters, phonics, spellin, and more. Fetch also came to life with moving eyes, ears, head and tail. Both these products were extensions of Kasey but developed for younger children.[57] Freeman, appeared on CNNfn discussing Kasey the Kinderbot in 2002.[54] You can see photos of Kasey the Kinderbot here:[58]

Interactivision[edit]

In 1986 Freeman Patented and licensed to View - Master Ideal Toy Company Inc. (manufactured the ever-present hand held 3 - D viewers) a sophisticated, for the time period, video game system that used VCR video tapes with overlay graphics to create a unique form of educational interactivity. It was called Interactivision. Freeman again used his influence to get The Walt Disney Company and CTW (Children's Television Workshop) to work together on the same toy, a unique accomplishment for that time. Each company produced three interactive VCR software programs for the initial rollout of the system. Big Bird, Elmo and Oscar the grouch were the stars of three tapes. Mickey Mouse and others were the star for three other tapes.

Although View-Master Ideal had high hopes for this system and produced a number of prime - time TV spots it was not commercially successful. The competition at that time was great and other systems like Mattel's Discovery System, CD-i and CD Rom were moving fast. Sony and Phillips both developed Interactive video games based on the new video CD format but of the three only CDs proved successful. After a little over one year Interactivision was abandoned. Remaining lots were sold to toy liquidators and View-Master Ideal abandoned the product in early 1990. TV Commercials and examples for the item however can still be seen[59][60][61]

Telecommunications[edit]

The world's first Telephone Branching Machine invented by Freeman in 1979.[62]
The invention of touchtone phone call branching from Freeman's patent of 1979

Machine: You have reached the law firm of Jones, Block, Smith, and Williams. If you desire to talk with Mr. Jones Push 1, Mr. Block push 2, Mr. Smith push 3, or Mr. Williams push 4.
(Assuming that the caller pushed button number 4 on his/her touch tone phone.)
Machine: Thank you, please hold on. We are ringing through to Mr. Williams' office for you.

Source: Google Patents[62]

Freeman was one of the true pioneers that introduced and patented telephone branching technology.[63] Telephone branching is the familiar process wherein callers will hear menu options when they reach a business, for example "for sales press 1, for service press 2", provided by an automated telephone attendant. Officially called "automated phone menus" or "telephone branching," in 1985 Freeman partnered with Philadelphia First Group Inc. an investment banking firm to advise and fund a new company called Communications Technologies Inc. (Comtek) to produce and license the first telephone branching units. The new company was headed by season businessman Sal Nastro. Under Comtek the technology was licensed to Ericsson Inc., Johnson and Johnson, movie companies and museums among others.[64][65] Once the patents became close to expiring, they were sold off and those still proprietary were licensed. Communications Technologies Inc. is still in existence today in related fields.

Freeman is the sole inventor of the key telecommunication patents, including the "verbally interactive telephone interrogation system with selectable variable decision tree" patent which was granted in 1979.[66] This patent introduced the concept of Voice Mail although it was not until one year later that the term was coined. Voice Mail is defined as the ability of the caller to leave a voice - mail message after the branching was complete (i.e. "Thank you for your responses...you have reached the desk of Mr. Choi..."I am not available for your call. Please leave a messege at the sound of the frequency."[67] Voice Mail is still in use today in most parts of the world. Since the year 1999, it is slowing being replaced by speech recognition systems. In computer science, speech recognition (SR) is the translation of spoken words into text or computer input. It is also known as "automatic speech recognition" "ASR", "computer speech recognition", "speech to text," or just "STT".

Cable television[edit]

In the early 1980s Freeman developed a form of interactive TV which provides viewers the means to selectively prearrange television programs to their personal preferences.[68] In 1983, Freeman founded a corporation to advance this technology named ACTV Incorporated where he also served as the company's CEO and President.[69] The ACTV system is activated through a cable TV smart set top converter box manufactured by Zenith Corporation, which included a specially developed microprocessor and extra "interactive" buttons on the remote control unit.[70][71] This allowed subscribers to interact with TV programs. Freeman created a 20 minute demonstration of ACTV programmingand hired Leonard Nimoy as the host. The company began to grow quickly. The Wall Street Jounnal in 2000 ranked ACTV number eleven on its best performing stocks for the year 1999.[72] With ACTV's prerecorded programs viewers could create their own seamless TV show that was specialized to each viewer's input.[71][71] Educational programs could allow TV characters to respond to children, workout exercise shows would specialize in what each viewer desired to focus on, a blackjack show could allow players at home to compete for prizes with a real life blackjackdealer, and even soap operas allowed for viewer's input which could alter the plotline story. Furthermore game shows allowed viewers to play along, history programs allowed viewers to experience more of what corresponded to their interests and many more types of interactive shows were possible.[68] With Live TV, newscasts could become more specific and sports viewers could change camera angles, select an instant replay anytime, create slow motion anytime, and even select graphics that would superimpose over the TV screen to show strike zones in baseball, scrimmage lines in football, and stats on each player. ACTV programming won an Emmy Award in in 2003 in the category of "Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Television for a single program." [73] ACTV acquired some strong corporate partners during this time including Liberty Media, Sun Microsystems, Motorola, Inc., AOL Time Warner, EchoStar Communications Corporation, and Cisco Systems.[74] Even television advertisements were targetable to the demographics of each viewer.[75] What made ACTV technology so appealing was that although each show was interactive it was so seamless there was nothing to differentiate ACTV programs from ordinary TV programs.[69] To each viewer it was the same as viewing a regular show although these particular shows would be responsive to each viewer's input. ACTV was first tested in 1985 and became commercially available in very limited markets 1986.[76]

ACTV made a number of successful and visible business deals such as Le Groupe Videotron, the second largest TV company in Canada invested US $16 million in ACTV's United States programming division and committed to make $6 million of U.S. based English language programs.[77] Time Warner teamed up with ACTV also. Jim Henson, a friend of Freeman from the Talk 'n Play days also lent his programming expertise to further developed interactive educational shows for the ACTV system and George Lucas after a personal meeting with Freeman supported the project as well with contacts and letters of support.[20] TCI, the largest cable company in America at that time agreed to purchase in July 1992 one-million Zenith-ACTV set top converters for use on its cable TV systems.[20] In addition, NBC signed on to broadcast ACTV in a few prime time specials. ACTV was installed in Montreal, London, and other locations. With all falling into place for ACTV, Chairman and CEO Freeman took the company public on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange on May 4, 1990 with a symbol of IATV. 850,000 shares of common stock were sold and 850,000 warrants were sold. Stock sales were strong and the stock traded daily about 50,000 shares. In July 1992, ACTV formed a partnership with The Washington Post.[78] Significant stock ownership at that time was made up of 47% of publicly held shares with the other 53% being help by Josenthal, Lyon, and Ross, Le Group Videotron, Prime Ticket, Liberty Media and its subsidiary OpenTV, and others.[79]

Freeman remained CEO until 1991 whereby he relinquished all control to the president of ACTV at the time named William Samuels. Samuels developed the company further and through acquisition enhanced ACTV's position in the marketplace and stock value.[20] Although the interactive ideals of ACTV and its founder Freeman never fully materialized, ACTV and its various technologies were carved up and sold into other technologies and companies that still exist.[20][80]

Freeman also invented and patented for a system that simulcasts an interactive program, with a conventional program, in the same video signal bandwidth which allows subscribers be connected to a television or computer display;[81] and for a system and method that provies private in-band data to digital set-top boxes in a broadcast environment.[82] He also created and patented for an interactive system and method for offering expert based interactive programs.[83] With all these systems created by Freeman any person can customize television segments and programs, and can help companies specifically target their clients directly by basing the market's demography or interests.[84]

TV show[edit]

Pick Your Brain [85] was a TV show that was based on the 2-XL robot character. The show's host was Double Dare star Marc Summers and a giant ten foot tall 2-XL Robot was the featured character on the show. Freeman did not do the 2-XL voice on Pick Your Brain. Instead the voice was done by Greg Berg. Berg did the robot's voice live and used a synthesizer to create the robotic sound effect. The TV show stopped being produced in 1994 after the 2-XL robot was no longer manufactured.

Educator[edit]

Freeman was also an assistant professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York located in Flatiron District of Manhattan, New York City at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and at Hofstra University in the Village of Hempstead, New York.[86] Freeman was the keynote speaker in one of the most notable fora at Harvard University on November 14, 2001 at the conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Book author[edit]

In 2012, using the pen name M. James Freeman he published a book called "BEF Economics: It's an Emergency!" The book was an analysis of economic factors and how the private and public sectors of the U.S. economy interact from a business and growth perspective.[87][88]

Freeman also authored "Writing Resumes Locating Jobs and Handling Job Interviews: A Comprehensive Guide for the Job Hunter" in 1976 and was published by McGraw Hill Financial and Richard D. Irwin Publishing Corporation.[89]

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