How does stephen hawking talk with his computer?

Stephen Hawking, the iconic theoretical physicist, was afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease. It left him almost completely paralyzed and unable to communicate using traditional methods. However, with the help of modern technology, Hawking found a way to communicate with the world. Through the use of a sophisticated computer system, he was able to speak and share his groundbreaking ideas with people around the globe.

The Answer: Assistive Technology

**Stephen Hawking communicated with his computer using assistive technology, specifically a speech-generating device.** The technology not only allowed him to speak, but also to write, browse the internet, send emails, and even control his environment.

Hawking’s computer system was initially developed by the California-based company, Words Plus. This early system consisted of a portable computer attached to his wheelchair, and a light-sensitive switch that was strapped to his glasses. The switch detected Hawking’s cheek movements, which he used to navigate through menus and select words or phrases. Once a selection was made, the computer would vocalize the chosen text using a synthetic voice.

Over time, as technology advanced, Hawking’s computer system evolved. He switched to a specialized software called ‘Equalizer’ developed by Intel, which allowed him to operate his computer without the need for a physical switch.

The ‘Equalizer’ software tracked Hawking’s facial movements through a small infrared sensor mounted on his glasses. By moving his cheek muscles, he was able to control a cursor on the computer screen. By dwelling on certain areas of the screen, he could select letters, words, or functions. The software then translated the selected text into speech, enabling Hawking to express his thoughts and ideas.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How did Stephen Hawking type words using his computer?

Hawking used specialized software that tracked his facial movements. By moving his cheek muscles, he controlled a cursor on the screen to select letters, words, or functions.

2. Was the speech generated by Hawking’s computer his own voice?

No, the speech provided by the computer was a synthetic voice that was chosen by Hawking himself.

3. How did the computer know which words or phrases Hawking wanted to use?

Hawking would dwell on specific areas of the screen to select letters, words, or phrases, which the computer then synthesized into speech.

4. Did the computer system limit the speed at which Hawking could communicate?

Initially, Hawking’s communication speed was slow using the cheek switch system, but it significantly improved with the use of the ‘Equalizer’ software, allowing him to communicate more efficiently.

5. Could Hawking only communicate through text?

No, in addition to typed text, Hawking’s computer system also allowed him to browse the internet, send emails, and control various external devices.

6. Did Hawking have alternative methods of communication?

Hawking also used a custom-designed infra-red clicker and later an eyebrow switch, which he could use to select words and phrases without the need for facial muscle control.

7. Could Hawking control his computer using only his eyes?

No, Hawking did not use eye-tracking technology. He relied on muscle movements, primarily in his face and neck, to control his computer system.

8. Was Stephen Hawking involved in developing the assistive technology he used?

Hawking provided feedback and suggestions to the software developers, but he was not directly involved in the technical development of the assistive technology.

9. Did Hawking’s computer system work on other devices?

Yes, Hawking’s computer system was portable, and it could be connected to various devices, such as his wheelchair or a desktop computer.

10. Could Hawking’s computer be used by other individuals with disabilities?

Yes, the assistive technology used by Hawking has been adapted and improved upon to assist many individuals with different physical disabilities.

11. How did Hawking maintain his computer system’s battery life?

Hawking used a large battery pack that powered his wheelchair and the computer system, ensuring he had an extended battery life to communicate for longer durations.

12. Did Hawking’s computer system have any limitations?

While the computer system allowed Hawking to communicate effectively, it did have limitations in terms of speed compared to natural speech. Additionally, the synthetic voice itself lacked emotional inflections, making it harder to express tone or intonation. Despite these limitations, Hawking’s determination and the technology available enabled him to overcome many barriers, continuing his scientific contributions until his passing in 2018.

Stephen Hawking’s ability to communicate with his computer system revolutionized the way individuals with severe physical disabilities can express themselves. It serves as a reminder of the incredible power of technology in enabling human connection and the pursuit of knowledge.

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