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Science
14 Mar 2018

Intel gave Stephen Hawking his distinct voice

Hawking had Intel to thank for his voice

Little did Stephen Hawking know when he met Intel co-founder Gordon Moore at a conference in 1997 that it would spark a series of events resulting in him getting a computer-generated synthesized voice that would became his most-recognized personality trait.

At the time, Hawking used archaic AMD processor. Moore offered to help and since then Intel had been looking after Hawking's technical support needs.

In context

Hawking had Intel to thank for his voice
How did Hawking lose his ability to speak? 

Backstory

How did Hawking lose his ability to speak? 

In 1985, on a trip to Geneva, Hawking caught pneumonia. His condition got so critical that he was put on ventilator and later shifted to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Though they succeeded in controlling the infection, the doctors performed a tracheotomy to help Hawking breathe. However, a hole cut to put a tube into his windpipe forever killed his ability to speak.

The initial struggle

Hawking indicated alphabets and lifted his eyebrows to form words

Initially, Hawking used a spelling card to communicate. He would indicate alphabets and lift his eyebrows to form words.

Soon after, an Apple II computer that ran Equalizer (a program allowing users to select words/commands through hand clicker) and was linked to a speech synthesizer was mounted on the Hawking arm of wheelchair.

The new system helped him communicate 15 words per minute.

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EZ Keys was among the first computer programs Hawking used

Slow change

EZ Keys was among the first computer programs Hawking used

With his health declining, by 2011, Hawking communicated one or two words a minute.

Hawking was then using a program called EZ Keys, which provided him with:

*An on-screen keyboard and a basic word-prediction algorithm

*A cursor scanning across keyboard, helping him select characters by moving his cheek

*Control on the Windows mouse

*Easy operation of computer applications

*Ability to access Firefox, Notepad, Skype

The breakthrough

Intel would change Hawking's computers every two years

However, Hawking was not satisfied. The Intel experts then focused on providing him with new features to help him interact better with his computer along with better speed.

After several hits, misses and updates, it was only in 2013 that team Intel came up with ACAT, which had contextual menus, a new lecture manager, and several shortcuts making online/offline communication easier for Hawking.

Hawking's voice was created by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt

Trivia

Hawking's voice was created by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt

Hawking was reportedly extremely attached to his robotic voice.

When Speech Plus gave him a new synthesizer in 1988 with a new voice, he requested them to replace it with the original.

His iconic voice was created by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt in 1980s. Klatt had originally made these voices modelled after his wife, daughter and himself. Hawking used "Perfect Paul", Klatt's voice.

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