Whether you’re checking out his illuminating talks on the nature of the universe, theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity; watching him play himself on Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons and Futurama; or geeking out to MC Frontalot’s rap, science, and quotations; chances are you’ve heard Stephen Hawking’s iconic voice.
What most people don’t realize is that while Stephen Hawking is very much alive, his voice could risk going end-of-life (EOL). Until recently, the computer responsible for helping Stephen Hawking communicate with the world is made up of three parts: a Lenovo X220 tablet PC, a custom black box containing various peripherals, and the hardware voice itself.
According to Sam Blackburn, the technician, who for five years kept Stephen Hawking’s communication systems running, the card inside Stephen’s hardware voice synthesizer dates back to the 1980s, “this particular one contains Stephen’s voice. There’s a processor on it which has a unique program that turns text into speech that sounds like Stephen’s, and we have only two of these cards. The company that made them went bankrupt and nobody knows how it works any more.”