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July 16, 2004
Stephen Hawking could not have existed in an earlier age. He is a tribute to his time, and complements it so well. He's awe-inspiring. (He's also a brand, as in the store where I found this image.)
Consider. This man has had ALS, Motor Neuron Disease, since he was an undergraduate. It has progressed far more slowly than in many cases, but it has progressed. Without modern medicine there is no way he could be celebrating his 60th year.
Without modern computer technology he could not function as he does. Which makes him a living laboratory for the next frontier in computing, interfaces.
Hawking's current system is based on an Intel 1.5 GHz Centrino chip and Windows XP. Intel has converted Hawking's speech software, Equalizer from WordsPlus, to XP. Hawking uses another WordsPlus program, EZ Keys, to pick out letters and words from his PC screen, driven by a single finger, and that is how he writes.
While Hawking appreciates all the great things technology has done for his ability to work and communicate, he remains impatient for change. In his own words, 'We must develop as quickly as possible technologies that make possible a direct connection between brain and computer, so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it.'
Focusing on Hawking alone in looking at future interfaces, however, could prove a distraction. The nature of his condition means that his voice can only be an output. For input he uses that single finger, and those eyes. This means he actually adapts well to the mouse-and-screen nature of today's interfaces.
So what comes next?
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