Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has a better way to talk now, thanks to a new custom predictive text software upgrade from SwiftKey and Intel Labs. The technology that Professor Hawking was currently using was going on 20 years old, and needed a fix to help him communicate and work faster and more efficiently.
His life-long motor neurone disease of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has necessitated his use of communications technology, and this new system will allow him to choose words rather than individual letters, which lets him type less than 20 percent of all needed characters in his messages. It also makes him 10 times more efficient with other computing tasks like browsing the web, working with files, and switching between tasks on the computer.
While Hawking may be the most recognizable user of text to speech technology, he certainly isn’t the only one. People with motor, vision, hearing and learning disabilities also rely on the tech to communicate and connect them to the rest of our society.
To that end, Intel has made the software Hawking is using free and open source, making it available to any of the millions of people who have similar needs. It can even be adapted to different access methods like blinking or eyebrow movements (Hawking uses an infrared attachment on his eyeglasses to choose words on the screen).
One thing that isn’t changing for Professor Hawking, however, is his overly robotic voice. His new system will use the same one, despite the availability of newer, more natural voices.
“It has become my trademark,” Hawking told the BBC in an interview, “and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent.”
It wouldn’t sound like Stephen Hawking anymore if they changed it.
“I’m told that children who need a computer voice,” he continued, “want one like mine.”