Intel senior executive says they are looking for ways to help Stephen Hawking reverse the slowing of his speech.
Known as the largest semiconductor chip maker, the technology company is long familiar with Hawking and his degenerative disorder, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Stephen Hawking, who is famous for his work regarding black holes, was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 21.
In 1997, Intel engineers developed a notebook computer for Hawking that helped him wirelessly access the Internet and control lights and doors, as reported by the LA Times. According to the article, the system also helped Hawking communicate more easily by accelerating his text-to-voice synthesis software.
At the time, Stephen Hawking was quoted as saying, “Intel’s newest Pentium processor technology keeps me connected to the world,” adding, “I must be one of the most connected people in the world, and I can truly say, I’m Intel inside.”
Lou Gehrig’s disease is incurable and has left Hawking paralyzed. Now the nerves in his face have deteriorated, and although he has the use of an infrared sensor that translates the pulses in his right cheeks into words spoken by a voice synthesizer, his speech has slowed down to a word a minute.
“This is a research project,” Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer, told the Associated Press, saying the team’s task was to gather data for further study.
Rattner believes Hawking’s best bet is on high definition cameras that pick up on the minute movements in his face to synthesize his speech.
“My wager is some form of facial feature recognition will unlock it for Stephen,” Rattner said.
On Sunday, a conference at the University of Cambridge in Britain was held for Hawking’s 70th birthday. However, he was unable to make the even due to an illness that kept him in recovery in the hospital.
“It is unusual for (motor neuron disease) patients to survive for decades, but not unheard of,” said Dr. Rup Tandan, a neurology professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Tandan added that many longtime survivors have ventilators to breathe for them, which is not the case for Hawking.
Intel has yet to give a specific timeframe for the company’s work and have yet to respond to request for further information.
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