Intel has worked on Stephen Hawking's speech technology for over a decade; the scientist, stricken by motor neuron disease, currently selects letters one by one by twitching his cheek in time to a continually scrolling cursor. But with his condition deteriorating, Hawking can only achieve about a word a minute this way, and recently contacted Intel co-founder Gordon Moore to see if the company would be able to assist.
"We've built a new, character-driven interface in modern terms that includes a better word predictor."
Speaking to Scientific American, CTO Justin Rattner said that Intel thinks it indeed can do better. Hawking can make other facial expressions, too, which could be used to speed up his speech output — two expressions would be enough to use Morse code, for example. Intel has more ambitious plans, though, working to add mouth and eyebrow movements to the existing cheek twitch system, and pairing it with a new selection interface that should speed up sentence construction.
"We've built a new, character-driven interface in modern terms that includes a better word predictor," says Rattner, who hopes that Intel can bring Hawking's speech up to five or even ten words per minute. The 71-year-old Hawking has continued to work throughout his disease, publishing books such as 2010's The Grand Design. With any luck, technological breakthroughs should allow him to produce even more in the future.