In 1985, Stephen Hawking has spoken for the last time with his own voice. Whether he writes books or lecturing: The world-renowned theoretical physicist and bestselling author uses a computer to which he assembles word for word his sentences. For 30 years, he is dependent for any form of communication on technical assistance. Stephen Hawking suffers from a variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In this incurable disease, the nerve cells that are responsible for the movement of muscles die.
For a long time contributed Hawking’s computer or with your thumb. But since 2008, he is unable to move his fingers. Since then registered an infrared sensor on his glasses, the motion of a single cheek muscle. Per minute, he managed only one or two words. To write a text up to this point, but Stephen Hawking would have required about one and a half hours. For a person with a lively spirit communication is to hard to bear ordeal.
Three years of development
has recently Hawking receive a special gift. Computer specialists from Intel have written together with the startup SwiftKey software for his computer. The heart of the three-year development work is a feature that very aptly the words guess who wants to use Hawking. He can use it to write about ten times faster than previously reported Lama Nachman, a development engineer at Intel. This Hawking would require up to this point in the text, only about 20 minutes.
Stephen Hawking said his life will change and tried with the new language skills the public. He gave the TV channel BBC interview and spoke to journalists and invited guests.
The 72-year-old really hope that from its prototype, other benefit people with similar disabilities. If the medicine could no longer help the must do the technique. “The most important improvement for me is the correct prediction of the next word that I will use it,” Hawking.
The principle is similar to the automatic spell correction and word recognition, which is already available as an app for smartphones. Hawking’s version is much more effective and focused more on the quality of the texts. The user of a mobile phone will usually tap as fast as possible. The phone is to correct mistakes, but overall the mobile phone user takes to language rather carelessly. Hawking, however, is considered to be a perfectionist.
For Hawking, it is too costly to select individual letters on a keyboard. On the screen of his computer, the cursor is automatically kept letters, numbers, syllables or Word suggestions. If he jerks her cheek muscle, that item is selected and used in the text. Hawking can also Skype, go to their email program or web browser.
After each decision, the computer stops and builds a new listing on the on screen. The more precise the prediction of the next action, the faster work Hawking. On average, the physicist must select only a fifth of the letters to create a text that says Nachman.
The end of the keyboard
For some examples of the software follows a simple logic: Hawking is conducting research into the formation of black holes in the universe. The system automatically looks up the word “black”, “hole” in the correct grammatical form. The term “black hole” (the black hole) is for Hawking to write now with a single action, says Lama Nachman.
Applying this idea to an ordinary mobile phone, as it is before the end of the keyboard. For the first few characters of a message, the panel may still be useful, then the Hawking process in terms of speed and accuracy could be superior to the search for the next letter or word.
are even greater benefits when writing longer texts, letters or e-mails. If the word processing relies on different databases, they could also provide those writers sentence blocks that have difficulties with their own texts. Technical assistance from the database can be orders, complaints, or write to the authorities succeed better. Also love letters could get a completely different quality.
The computer converts the words in language. Hawking retained its old art voice, though the developer wanted to give him another that rather resembles his original voice. “This clear, robotic feel has become a kind of trademark,” Hawking said, “I do not want to exchange it for a more natural voice with a British accent.”
There were of course other approaches, such as Hawking could control his computer. The American neuroscientist Philip Low tried to read Hawking’s brainwaves. A device in a headband on the size of a matchbox recorded EEG of the physicist on.
tested idea of zebra finches
The idea was tested at Stanford University in zebra finches low. The EEG should change when Hawking thinks intently at something specific. But although Hawking trained a lot, low could not filter out the noise of the EEG signal. The physicist was very disappointed.
The fact that the method works in humans basically proved the neuroscientist Adrian Owen. He studied with imaging the brain activity of coma patients. In five of more than 50 subjects he could see reactions