Intel boosts Stephen Hawking’s ability to communicate

Santa Clara chipmaker Intel on Tuesday unveiled new software it created that lets renowned physicist Stephen Hawking –  who is almost entirely paralyzed – type, search the web and communicate much faster through a computer-assisting device.

Intel, which demonstrated the software with Hawking in London Tuesday, said it has the potential to help 3 million people afflicted with motor neuron diseases and quadriplegia. The company, whose software will be available for researchers and technologists in January, said it will enable Hawking to replace the decades-old communication system he has been relying upon due to his condition, which is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

“Medicine has not been able to cure me, so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live,” said Hawking in a press release. “Intel has been supporting me for almost 20 years, allowing me to do what I love every day. The development of this system has the potential to improve the lives of disabled people around the world and is leading the way in terms of human interaction and the ability to overcome communication boundaries that once stood in the way.”

Here’s how the press release describes the innovation:

“Similar to the parts of an engine interacting smoothly to run a car, the Intel-created software user interface enables existing and new technologies to efficiently work with each other. The result: Hawking’s typing speed is twice as fast, and there is a 10x improvement in common tasks, such as easier, more accurate and faster browsing, editing, managing and navigating the Web, emails and documents; opening a new document; and saving, editing and switching between tasks.

“His existing cheek sensor is detected by an infrared switch mounted to his glasses and helps him select a character on the computer. Integrating software from British language technology company SwiftKey has greatly improved the system’s ability to learn from Hawking to predict his next characters and words so he only has to type less than 20 percent of all characters.

“This information is sent to his existing speech synthesizer so he can communicate to others through his Lenovo laptop running Microsoft Windows. For example, to conduct a Web search, Hawking previously had to take arduous routes, such as exiting from his communication window, navigating a mouse to run the browser, navigating the mouse again to the search bar, and finally typing the search text. The new system automates all of these steps for a seamless and swift process.”

Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP


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