How Stephen Hawking’s robotic voice worked

British physicist Stephen Hawking is considered the most important name after Einsten. Stricken by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, he underwent a tracheostomy in 1985, which left him speechless.

For this, he communicated via a computer. Now understand how Stephen Hawking’s robotic voice worked .

The scientist became famous worldwide after popularizing complex topics in quantum physics, such as black holes and the origin of the universe. A lover of science, he also took advantage of technology to continue communicating through a speech synthesizer . Learn details about this invention.

What is a speech synthesizer?

Stephen Hawking’s robotic voice came from a speech synthesizer he developed (Photo: Playback | Slash Gear)

Speech synthesizer is a computer program that transforms text into the sound of a human voice . There are many software developers who perform this function.

The initiative allows people with speech difficulties to type their words and express themselves through sound, as Stephen Hawking has done for years.

(Photo: reproduction / internet)

This mechanism also works for people who want to speak in another language . It is possible to type in English, for example, and hear the voice in the American language.

See also:  Stephen Hawking phrases

People who are blind or have difficulty seeing can also use synthesizers to read news on the internet, for example. Just choose the text and hear it through the robotic voice.

Attempts to develop a speech synthesizer started in the 1930s, when people typed on a kind of keyboard and an electronic system reproduced the words. However, real advances only appeared with the popularization of computers, with the advent of the internet and, more recently, with mobile applications.

How Stephen Hawking’s speech synthesizer worked

At 21, Stephen Hawking discovered Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Initially, doctors said he would only live a maximum of three more years. The scientist’s claw allowed him to live with the diagnosis for another 55 years.

Despite stopping walking in 1970 and talking in 1985, Hawking was extremely productive and kept his mind bright until the year of his death in 2018. In fact, this is one of the characteristics of this disease. It does not reach the brain, only the muscles of the body. Therefore, however immobilized the patient was, his head remains active.

As soon as he underwent a tracheostomy, Hawking did not speak and, with the worsening of his condition, he was barely able to type his words to be read. From there, he used the Equalizer software, where he wrote the sentences playing with his hands . Further on, a synthesizer added the sound of speech, even if it was robotic.

Stephen Hawking, with his characteristic humor, complained that the synthesizer gave him an American accent, playing with the old feud between American and English accents.

See also:  SHE: Stephen Hawking’s disease

But the fact is that technology has helped him a lot to communicate. For 20 years he used Equalizer. However, as time went by, he was no longer able to move his hands. In this phase, Hawking started using the ACAT (Context-Aware Assistive Toolkit).

The system was developed by Intel and SwiftKey with the collaboration of Hawking. And it took three years to develop and made it possible to write and navigate faster with sensors installed on the cheek and an infrared switch installed on your glasses .

The ACAT interface has become much simpler, since in the previous system Hawking could take up to three minutes to open a document archived on the computer, in addition to needing help to attach that document to an email, due to the use of Mouse.

With the new system, the physicist only needed to introduce 20% of what he wanted to say, as the software already complemented the rest, based on a broad specific vocabulary included in Stephen’s machine.

Despite all the modernizations in the sound quality of the voices, making them as human as possible, Hawking asked not to change the synthesized voice for which he is known.

Currently, ACAT can be downloaded free of charge for the Windows platform and has a Portuguese version.

How Stephen Hawking gave lectures

In order to deliver his lectures, Stephen Hawking already had his texts ready and was gradually loosening his sentences to make it more natural, instead of letting the text run in full.

For that, Stephen Hawking had a tablet attached to the arms of the wheelchair. The system was all facilitated through words in alphabetical order and the spelling option.

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The physicist selected the phrases through the movements of the right cheek. When they were already formulated, they were sent to the synthesizer, which reproduced the sound that came out from behind the computer.

At home, the British physicist had another wheelchair that he was commanded remotely to perform small tasks, such as connecting appliances and doors.

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