USA TODAY US Edition
STEPHEN HAWKING OPENS UP
In rare interview, famed physicist shares why biopic had him nervous and how new communication system has him excited
SAN FRANCISCO For years, Stephen Hawking has grappled with a communications system that can be maddening in its complexity. Commit one typo, and a comment is scuttled.
But new technology from Intel, announced today, will speed the process by 10 times. That has Hawking excited for himself and millions of others with conditions that significantly hinder their ability to communicate.
In his only interview with a North American media outlet, Hawking, 72, talked with USA TODAY about Intel’s technology, Pink Floyd and a recently released movie about him, The The
ory of Everything.
The biopic depicts Hawking in his grad-student days at Cambridge. There, he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and met Jane Wilde, who became his first wife and the mother of his three children. Hawking is played in the movie by English actor Ed
USA TODAY: What are your thoughts on constant connectivity and its effect on mankind?
Hawking: We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain. Much has been said about the effect of social media, and I don’t have much to add that is original. I had resisted social media until recently as a time-consuming invasion of privacy, but I was persuaded to open a Facebook page to communicate the importance of science to a wider audience. I hope my Facebook page will put an end to several fake Stephen Hawking pages, but it won’t do anything for Twitter. The Internet has had a big effect on research in my field of physics. Up to the early ’90s, people circulated paper pre--
“I thought Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of me was very good. ... At times, I almost believed he was me.”
prints by mail. These often took several months to arrive, and went only to a small circle, mainly in the West. Now anyone anywhere in the world can react immediately to new work. Science has become more inclusive.
USA TODAY: How may your work with Intel — and its new communications platform — benefit those who have MND and quadriplegia?
Hawking: Intel has developed a new communications program called ACAT (Assistive Context Aware Toolkit). This uses predictive text to speed up writing. It can handle files, mail and Internet, and it can switch windows easily. It can be operated by a single switch, which can be activated by hand or head movement. In my case, I operate ACAT by a small sensor on my glasses, which detects the movement of my cheek. Communication is very important if one is disabled. Without it, one is powerless.
USA TODAY: What do youthink of The Theory of Everything?
Hawking: I was apprehensive about the film because it was based on a book by my ex-wife. But I was reassured when I read the script, and even more so when I saw the screening. It was surprisingly honest about our marriage. I thought Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of me was very good. He spent time with people with ALS, to be authentic. At times, I almost believed he was me. Those who have seen the movie said it made a big impact.
USA TODAY: Evidently, there is a new track on the new Pink Floyd album, out Nov. 10, called
Talkin’ Hawkin’. Did you collaborate on that?
Hawking: The track was taken from a BT commercial I made. At the time, it was the most expensive television commercial ever made. I only got to go to a fake Mayan temple in Pinewood Studios, but they sent my double to a real temple in Mexico, and to North Africa, where they filmed the remains of tanks, to show the stupidity of war.