Intel Works To Help Stephen Hawking Keep Speaking
January 10, 2012

Intel Works To Help Stephen Hawking Keep Speaking

Intel Corp. is searching for ways to help renowned theoretical astrophysicist Stephen Hawking continue speaking, said a senior executive with the company this week.

Justin Rattner, Intel´s chief technology officer, told the Associated Press on Monday that the chipmaker has a research team in Britain that is working to develop a new speech system for Hawking, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease when he was just 21 years old.

The incurable degenerative disorder has left him almost completely paralyzed.

The goal of the Intel team is to keep the Hawking's speech from continuing to deteriorate.

“This is a research project," Rattner told The Associated Press, saying Intel´s task was to collect data for further study.

The scientist and Cambridge University professor currently uses a tiny infrared sensor that translates movement in his right cheek into words spoken by a voice synthesizer. However, Hawking is now losing the use of the nerves in that cheek.

Rattner was set to introduce Hawking on Sunday at his 70th birthday celebration, but Hawking was too ill to attend the event.

Hawking, who wrote the bestselling book "A Brief History of Time" in 1988, has been honored for his pioneering work in cosmology.   His achievements are particularly remarkable given his condition.  Most people with Lou Gehrig's disease die within two to five years of their diagnosis, but Hawking has spent nearly fifty years conducting his pioneering research work.

Intel has a long history of working with Hawking.   In 1997, the company´s engineers developed a notebook computer for Hawking that helped him access the Internet wirelessly and control lights and doors.

The system also assisted Hawking´s speech by speeding up his text-to-voice synthesis software.

"I must be one of the most connected people in the world, and I can truly say, I'm Intel inside,” Hawking said at the time.

Now, with the nerves in Hawking´s cheek beginning to fade, Rattner said it was time for a new approach, saying that solutions based on brainwaves or eye tracking were among the technologies being studied.

However, Rattner said the best bet would likely be a type of high-definition camera that detects the tiny movements in Hawking's face to synthesize his speech.

"My wager is some form of facial feature recognition will unlock it for Stephen," he said.

Rattner did not provide any specific timeframe for Intel´s work.

Last month, Hawking placed an advertisement on his website for a personal assistant at a starting salary of around $40,000, saying he was not looking for a fellow physicist, just someone with technical savvy to help him with diverse tasks.


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