Stephen Hawking has spoken of the 'life changing' new technology he and Intel have developed over the past three years
Professor Stephen Hawking has unveiled a new communications platform which he hailed as "life changing".
Speaking at an event in London, Professor Hawking said “We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible”, and claimed that without the new platform he would not be able to speak today.
“Medicine has not been able to cure me, so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live,” he said. “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.”
Computing giant Intel offered to help Professor Hawking with his computing and speech synthesiser in the mid-nineties, and he approached the company several years ago to help modernise his current communication system.
Lama Nachman, Principle Engineer at Intel, said the new system had been developed over the past three years, and is hooked over Professor Hawking's glasses and onto his cheek. Motion in the cheek is detected through an infra-red sensor, allowing him to select a letter of the alphabet, which in turn triggers numerous word suggestions.
"We're able to speed up some of the common tasks he does on his machine by about 10 times," she said. "Stephen was looking for something very familiar, that is similar to his current interface but much more effective."
One of the problems Professor Hawking encountered with his previous system was that his word-per-minute rate was decreasing. Intel decided to reduce the amount of characters needed to be typed in order to complete full words, and were approached by British software application developers SwiftKey to help tailor the system to his needs. Their text prediction technology means Professor Hawking now needs to type fewer than one in five of the letters for the words he uses.
The new platform has been designed to mimic Professor Hawking's current system exactly, featuring a near-identical user interface, and communicates with the current speech synthesiser.
"My old system is more than 20 years old, and I was finding it very difficult to continue to communicate effectively and do the things I love to do every day," Professor Hawking said.
"This new system is life-changing for me, and I hope that it will serve me well for the next 20 years."
Pete Denman, user experience designer at Intel Labs, praised Professor Hawking for allowing the company "unprecedented access" into his life, allowing the team to watch hours of video of him working, as well as travelling with him and seeing him relax.
SwiftKey produced a bespoke language model by analysing Professor Hawking's lectures, books and unpublished documents, which now continually adapts to his writing style the more he interacts with it.
Intel said they planned to make the system open-source and free for users.
Article appeared in The Telegraph on 12:17PM GMT 02 Dec 2014 and was written by Rhiannon Williams.