Exclusive: Giving Stephen Hawking A Voice

Joao Medeiros | WIRED UK | December 2, 2014

Stephen Hawking first met Gordon Moore, the cofounder of Intel, at a conference in 1997. Moore noticed that Hawking's computer, which he used to communicate, had an AMD processor and asked him if he preferred instead a "real computer" with an Intel micro-processor. Intel has been providing Hawking with customised PCs and technical support since then, replacing his computer every two years.

Hawking lost his ability to speak in 1985, when, on a trip to CERN in Geneva, he caught pneumonia. In the hospital, he was put on a ventilator. His condition was critical. The doctors asked Hawking's then-wife, Jane, whether they should turn off the life support. She vehemently refused. Hawking was flown to Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, where the doctors managed to contain the infection. To help him breathe, they also performed a tracheotomy, which involved cutting a hole in his neck and placing a tube into his windpipe. As a result, Hawking irreversibly lost the ability to speak.

For a while, Hawking communicated using a spelling card, patiently indicating letters and forming words with a lift of his eyebrows. Martin King, a physicist who had been working with Hawking on a new communication system, contacted a California-based company called Words Plus, whose computer program Equalizer allowed the user to select words and commands on a computer using a hand clicker. King spoke to the CEO of Words Plus, Walter Woltosz, and asked if the software could help a physics professor in England with ALS...