The Open-Source Software Stephen Hawking Says Changed His Life

Nick Heath | TechRepublic | December 2, 2014

The famous physicist talks about how he spent three years working with Intel to devise new software that makes it simpler for him to communicate with the world.

Professor Stephen Hawking suffers from a neurological disease that has left him almost entirely paralysed.  For the past 20 years the world-renowned physicist has relied on a computer to communicate with the world - controlling the machine using a muscle in his cheek. His limited movement meant everyday tasks were a painstaking process and even talking via his speech synthesiser took longer than one minute per word.

Worse, Hawking found he was becoming fatigued, that his cheek muscle could only control the computer for so long each day, limiting his ability to work and speak to his friends and family.  Hawking needed a more efficient way to control his computer and turned to Intel founder Gordon Moore for help. Moore set up a group within Intel Labs to help Hawking, and over the next three years that group worked with Hawking to develop a new user interface and predictive text system. After years of tweaking the system to suit Hawking's needs, the team devised software capable of doubling his rate of speech and that let Hawking control everyday software such as web browsers ten times faster than before.

"My old system is more than 20 years old and I was finding it very difficult to communicate effectively and do the things I love to do," he said at an event to unveil the Assistive Context Aware Toolkit (ACAT) system in London today...