Dr. Stephen Hawking has lived with ALS since his diagnosis in 1963, soon after his 21st birthday. Although this degenerative disease has led to debilitating physical disabilities for Hawking, it has not prevented him from conducting groundbreaking research within the fields of cosmology and theoretical physics. In 1985, his ALS advanced to the point where Hawking could no longer speak, which led him to begin using a computer system to speak for him.
For about 10 years after Hawking’s diagnosis, he managed to remain independent and reasonably active. Eventually, his motor function and his speech deteriorated, though. In 1985, Hawking underwent a tracheotomy, which resulted in the permanent loss of his voice. Almost immediately, Hawking began using assistive technology to communicate. As Hawking’s condition has deteriorated, Intel became involved and has continued to expand and upgrade the system to enable him to continue communicating.
Text-to-Speech Technology Advances
In 1997, Intel began assisting Hawking by designing the system he uses to communicate. The initial computer system Hawking used was operated by a hand switch, which Hawking squeezed to create the words he wanted to say. Slowly, as Hawking’s condition deteriorated, Intel worked to design a different system. The new system enabled Hawking to use facial muscles to create his speech. The movement of his cheek muscles would send a message to a switch attached to Hawking’s glasses, which would then enable him to choose letters of words on a computer screen. Even with newer auto-complete technology, this process could be slow and laborious. The process of constructing one word for the voice synthesizer to say might take one minute. Intel’s latest text-to-speech voice assistive technology will work with facial recognition and more intuitive word-predictor technology. The newest advances promise up to 10 times faster communication for Hawking.
The newest release of the voice assistive technology designed by Intel will incorporate improvements to the software that interprets Hawking’s facial movements and translates them into voice commands. The software also enables Hawking to open emails and enter text to communicate online. The next step in advancement involves the text-to-speech voice assistive technology becoming available for general use by a broader range of the disabled population as open-source software.
- Stephen Hawking Talking to the World About Artificial Intelligence and His Love of Communication and Science: The University Herald presents an overview of a recent BBC interview with Stephen Hawking about artificial intelligence.
- Chipmaker Races to Save Stephen Hawking’s Speech as His Condition Deteriorates: Scientific American’s article describes the computer designed by Intel, which enables Hawking to use his limited muscle control to speak.
- The Computer: Stephen Hawking describes his computer on his website, explaining how he uses it to communicate.
- Personal Computers as a Communication Aid: Explore how people with disabilities can use personal computers to perform actions they cannot perform themselves, such as speaking (in the case of Stephen Hawking).
- Stephen Hawking Speaking Aid: Watch a video from the Science Channel that shows the current talking computer system Hawking uses.
- Intel, SwiftKey Upgrade Stephen Hawking’s Communication Technology: PCWorld explains the new upgrades to Stephen Hawking’s speech computer, as provided by Intel and SwiftKey.
- How a Groundbreaking Device is Helping Stephen Hawking Communicate: View a video that shows how Stephen Hawking uses his computer system to speak.
- Intel Improves Stephen Hawking’s Communication: After ALS made it impossible for Stephen Hawking to speak, Intel provided assistance with a communication system that operates via computer.
- Stephen Hawking Gets a Voice Upgrade: National Public Radio interviews an Intel representative about Stephen Hawking’s talking computer.
- Intel Helps Stephen Hawking Speak Up: The speech system designed by Intel for Stephen Hawking will become open-source in 2015, making it available for others with disabilities.
- Stephen Hawking Gets an Upgrade: How the Physicist’s New Speech Software Works: The upgrade to Stephen Hawking’s speech system includes a feature for predictive text, powered by SwiftKey.
- Stephen Hawking: Using Technology to Communicate with the World: View a video that shows how Stephen Hawking’s speech system works to enable him to communicate.
- Dr. Stephen Hawking: A Case Study on Using Technology to Communicate with the World: This overview explains how Dr. Stephen Hawking’s illness threatened to disrupt his professional advances and how assistive technology has enabled him to continue his work.
- Hawking’s Speech Software Goes Open-Source for Disabled: Review information about the speech system utilized by Stephen Hawking becoming available for other disabled people to use.
- Does Text-to-Speech Technology Help Students Learn?: This article explains further whether text-to-speech voice assistive technology is truly beneficial to students.
- Speech Synthesis Technologies for Individuals with Vocal Disabilities: Voice Banking and Reconstruction: This paper published by the Acoustical Society of Japan outlines speech synthesis technology, used to assist disabled people.
- A Simplified Overview of Text-To-Speech Synthesis: Explore an explanation of text-to-speech synthesis in this published report.
Content Writer at Vodien Internet Solutions
Val Soh is the lead writer at Vodien and is responsible for all the content that comes from Vodien. She loves the world of technology and marketing and enjoys catching up with the latest happenings in the field, sharing them in unique and entertaining pieces for her readers to enjoy.
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