England (AP)—Intel Corp. is looking for ways to help famed British
physicist Stephen Hawking reverse the slowing of his speech, according
to a senior executive with the American chipmaker.
was 21 when he was diagnosed Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable
degenerative disorder that has left him almost completely paralyzed.
While an infrared sensor attached to his glasses translates the pulses
in his right cheek into words spoken by a voice synthesizer, the nerves
in his face have deteriorated and those close to him say his rate of
speech has slowed to about a word a minute.
late Sunday on the sidelines of a conference celebrating Hawking’s 70th
birthday in the English city of Cambridge, Intel Chief Technology
Officer Justin Rattner said his company had a team in England to explore
ways to help the celebrity scientist communicate more quickly.
“This is a research project,” Rattner told The Associated Press, saying the team’s task was to gather data for further study.
has gained world renown as an expert on cosmology and the author of a
best-selling series of books popularizing the field of theoretical
astrophysics. His achievements have been all the more remarkable because
of his condition. Most of those with Lou Gehrig’s disease die within
two to five years of their diagnosis, but Hawking has spent nearly half a
century carrying out pioneering research work.
ways to keep Hawking communicating has long been a challenge. Lou
Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, attacks
the cells that control muscles—leading to weakness, slurred speech and
managed to overcome his deteriorating speech for a while by dictating
scientific papers to a secretary, or speaking through an interpreter. He
lost his voice entirely after a tracheotomy in 1985, and a computer was
built to synthesize his speech in a distinctive, robotic monotone that
has since become almost as famous as the scientist himself.
first, Hawking retained some limited hand movement and could manage
about 15 words a minute. Now that even the nerves in Hawking’s cheek are
beginning to fade, Rattner argued it was time for a new approach—saying
that solutions based on brainwaves or eye tracking were among the
technologies being considered.
Rattner said his best bet was on high definition cameras that pick up
on the minute 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.
did not give any specific timeframe for the company’s work, and Intel
didn’t immediately respond to a request for further information.
Santa Clara, California-based company has long provided Hawking with
many of his technological needs — including an upgrade of his speech
software and the connection that links his wheelchair-mounted computer
to the Internet.
SOURCE: The Associated Press