New device to enable Stephen Hawking to 'speak' faster
London: World renowned scientist Stephen Hawking will be able to better communicate his ideas about fundamental physics after the technology that interprets his speech was upgraded with a new device.
A worsening of the degenerative disease affecting the 71-year-old physicist had recently reduced him to composing sentences at a rate of one word a minute.
But now a team from computer hardware firm Intel have created a device they believe will give the professor the ability to compose five words a minute - and even increase it to as many as ten, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
The scientist has for the past ten years composed his sentences one letter at a time using a twitch of his cheek to stop a cursor as it moves across an on-screen keyboard.
After he painstakingly crafts his sentences one word at a time, a computer attached to his wheelchair reads them out in the distinctive metallic voice for which he is known.
But recently the motor neuron disease from which he suffers has made his cheek twitch more difficult to control, significantly slowing the rate at which one of the world's sharpest minds is able to communicate with the outside world.
Intel began working on Professor Hawking's new device in 2011, after he asked for help from Intel co-founder Gordon Moore - the man behind computing's famous 'Moore's Law', which says processing power will double every two years.
The new system uses facial recognition technology to recognise not only Hawking's cheek movements, but also twitches from his mouth and eyebrows to send words to a new speech machine.
Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, told Scientific American magazine that the upgrade comes after technology finally caught up with the complicated concepts Hawking wanted to express.
"We've built a new, character-driven interface in modern terms that includes a better word predictor," he said.
"Up to now, [previous] technologies didn't work well enough to satisfy someone like Stephen, who wants to produce a lot of information," he added.
The new technology offers the professor the opportunity to use two different signals to express himself, which means he could even communicate using Morse code which, said Rattner, 'would be a great improvement'.
Hawking took to his personal blog to tell how grateful he is for the new technology that allows him to continue to speak.
"One's voice is very important. If you have a slurred voice, people are likely to treat you as mentally deficient," he was quoted by the paper as writing.
"This [computer] synthesiser is by far the best I have heard, because it varies the intonation, and doesn't speak like a Dalek. The only trouble is that it gives me an American accent," he wrote.