Custom-made speech synthesiser for Stephen Hawking

Made:
1985-1995 in Cambridge
maker:
Cambridge Adaptive Communication (CAC)
Stephen Hawking's voicebox. Image of analogue phone and box Stephen Hawking's voicebox

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Stephen Hawking's voicebox. Image of analogue phone and box
Stephen Hawking Estate/Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Stephen Hawking's voicebox
Stephen Hawking Estate/Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Custom made Speech synthesizer and computer interface built for Stephen Hawking to allow speech and communication by computer with the Internet. The system consists of six parts, case, computer interface, processor, switch control and two mobile phones.

This was Stephen Hawking's first synthesizer system. After using it for more than a decade, he gave it on loan to the Science Museum in 1999, where it has been on display in different exhibitions. Stephen was proud to mention that his voice was in the Science Museum. In 2021, this system, which was previously on loan, became part of the newly allocated collection of Stephen Hawking's Office.

In 1985 Hawking completely lost his voice after emergency windpipe surgery. Shortly after, he began to try a voice synthesiser and software that allowed him to select letters or preprogrammed words and phrases. The synthesiser hardware was adapted into a portable system hanging on his wheelchair.

With practice, Hawking was able to say about 20 words per minute (most people reach about 150). His synthetic voice became famous, and he later refused offers to ‘humanise’ it.

Details

Category:
Stephen Hawking Office
Collection:
Stephen Hawking’s Office
Object Number:
2021-561/21
Materials:
steel (metal), plastic (unidentified), paint, textile, nylon, metal (unknown), electronic components, nickel plated (halide battery) and synthetic rubber
type:
voice synthesizer
credit:
On loan from Professor Stephen Hawking since 2000, accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by H M Government from the Estate of Stephen Hawking and allocated to the Science Museum, 2021.

Parts