Think Stephen Hawking has killer computer software to help him communicate from his wheelchair? Apparently not—he couldn't even add attachments to emails. So the brainy folks at Intel and SwiftKey have upgraded his system for the first time in 20 years, Fast Company reports. "It wasn't based on sophisticated machine learning," says an Intel engineer of Hawking's Windows-based system, which enables the paralyzed, world-famous physicist to choose letters one-at-a-time by flexing his cheek muscle. "Even your smartphone has a better predictor." Not only that, the device spewed gibberish every time he chewed while eating. And it had no mute button. "I was finding it very difficult to communicate effectively and do the things I love to do," said Hawking today at the software unveiling in London, reports TechRepublic.
So he contacted Intel three years ago, and the engineers observed him in his daily life, paralyzed by motor neuron disease (MND). Eventually they came up with software improvements including better word prediction ("the" prompts the option of "universe") as well as automated typing, mouse movements, and Web searching, ZDNet reports. There's even a mute button. "It means I can continue to give lecture[s], write papers and books, and speak with family and friends more easily," says the physicist known for his theories on black holes. "This new system is life changing for me and I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years." Intel plans to offer the software for free in January so others with MND and quadriplegia can use it, ABC News reports. (See why Hawking says the "god particle" could destroy the universe.)