Over the past two years, software keyboard experts at SwiftKey have been working with Professor Stephen Hawking and his team to create an improved, bespoke typing system for the scientist. The project has now come to an end, and the result is a predictive keyboard which reduces the amount of time Hawking needs to communicate, and dramatically increases his accuracy when typing.
Professor Hawking suffers from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and uses a muscle in his cheek to activate a tiny sensor which “types” on his keyboard. SwiftKey was given access to Hawking’s books, and many documents unreleased to the public, ultimately coming up with a personalized piece of software built around his tone of voice, and specific use of words.
Although we can all use SwiftKey’s keyboard on our phones right now, our requirements are very different to the professor’s. SwiftKey charmingly calls its most common user a “fast and sloppy typist,” bashing out texts and tweets, while Hawking is a considered typist and an accurate speller, who writes complete books on very complex subjects. The final product has been integrated into Professor Hawking’s communications system, and will continue to learn, predict, and adapt to his own personal style.
According to SwiftKey’s Joe Osbourne, who ran the project from beginning to end, it’s estimated the revised system has doubled Hawking’s speech rate. “By understanding the way he uses language,” says Osbourne, “our technology makes it faster and easier for him to communicate, leaving more time to consider the secrets of the universe.”
SwiftKey isn’t exclusive to Stephen Hawking, and can be used by mere mortals too. The app is available to download for Android, and thanks to iOS 8’s custom keyboard option, also for the iPhone and iPad.