At 16,Raymond Lau wrote StuffIt, which soon became the prevailing software for compressing files on Macintosh computers so they take up less space. But Lau really heard his calling when he realized “the mathematical models for data compression are pretty similar to those for language processing.” He joined MIT’s Spoken Language Systems Group in 1994 and was central to its Galaxy project, producing software to recognize speech and interpret language, then deliver database information. He followed with Galaxy II—software that lets U.S. marines access information hands-free. Lau then used Galaxy II as the backbone of the MIT lab’s most ambitious project: Mercury. The system allows anyone to call the lab, speak to a computer and book flights on 23 airlines, as if talking to a travel agent. In 1999 Lau became chief technology officer of startup iPhrase Technologies in Cambridge, MA, to apply his expertise to written words. IPhrase programs have advanced search capabilities for Web sites such as Yahoo! Finance and Schwab.