back to article Stephen Hawking nixes Intel voice upgrade plan

Stephen Hawking scuppered an Intel plan to upgrade his voice, sending researchers at the chip giant into a desperate effort to emulate a defunct speech-synthesis chip. The A Brief History of Time author's nixing of Intel efforts to bring his robotic voice up-to-date was revealed at an innovation awards ceremony hosted by the …


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  1. Gary F

    I know that voice!

    It sounds like the speech synthesiser built-in to the Amiga! Or maybe all computer speech sounded identical in those days. Since no one else uses this old voice these days, it really is a unique identity for the Professor.

    If he started using a modern voice then no one could tell if it's their smartphone, TV, car, or fridge talking! ;-)

    1. ACx

      Re: I know that voice!

      Maybe my memory is frazzled, but I though the voice was a dead ringer for ye olde Speak and Spell.

      1. Andrew Jones 2
        Thumb Up

        Re: I know that voice!

        No - Ye Olde Speak and Spell (That was the Orange one with the Green vacuum fluorescent display) had inflections (but I believe it was playing recorded sounds rather than synthesising on the fly). It was later followed by the Blue Speak and Spell with an LCD display and a woman's voice which was definitely pre-recorded.

        However - Upvotes given because most people don't remember them - but because of the number of times it told me to spell "necessary" it's permanently imprinted on the brain cells!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I know that voice!

      "It sounds like the speech synthesiser built-in to the Amiga!"

      Or the BBC MICRO Speech synthesizer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I know that voice! @dgharmon

        "Or the BBC MICRO Speech synthesizer."

        Well, not the Acorn one, as I suspect you're aware :)

        1. davidp231

          Re: I know that voice! @dgharmon

          And that one is entirely done in software (yes, I said software). There was a hardware version Acorn developed, but Superior Software's Speech! program was much better and the hardware one fell silent.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I know that voice! @dgharmon

            "(yes, I said software)"

            Thanks for the condescension. It was wasted, though.

            "but Superior Software's Speech! program was much better ..."

            Hadn't heard Speech! since the early/mid 80s so couldn't remember how it sounded. If the couple of videos I found on YouTube are anything to go by, I'd have to say that Acorn's (well, Kenneth's,) was far better, but didn't speech have loads of phonemes so basically unlimited words, as opposed to Acorn's recorder words and few, if any, phonemes? Not really certain whether the Acorn one ever sold well - I have a vague thought that it was a matter of cost versus utility, for me at least.

            "and the hardware one fell silent."

            OK, not bad.

          2. Steve Evans

            Re: I know that voice! @dgharmon

            The hardware one was based on the tones of BBC News reader Kenneth Kendle.

      2. leeph

        Re: I know that voice!

        More like Dr Sbaitso - that thing was way ahead of its time, as I remember it.

        Irritating as hell, too - always answered a question with another question.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Gray Ham

      Re: I know that voice!

      I was thinking, give him a Frank Oz voice with a grammar obfuscation circuit ... then he would sound just like Yoda.

      Yes, I know, I am a bad person ...

      1. Euripides Pants

        Re: Yoda

        "Yes, I know, I am a bad person"

        Obligatory it is for Yoda comment in Yoda-speak to be!

        Know I, yes, bad person am I

        There FFYT (Fixed For You That)

  2. Notas Badoff

    Freedom of speech!

    So we aren't going to talk about what might be talked about, because we (Intel) really like freedom of speech, so let's not talk about anything unpleasant?

    D••n, this makes tech seem so much simpler than real life....

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Considering that Hawking hitched his wagon to the star of string theory and m-theory, he ought to just shut the fuck up NOW and fade into obscurity without any more whining - like the whining he did to get his name mentioned alongside that of (IICR) Galileo, Newton, and Einstein in the first Star Trek movie. He's not in the same league and a mention in a movie isn't going to put him there.

    He's always been an asshole, dating back from the time when he got Sagan to write a introduction to A Brief History Of Time, plugging atheism, and then was too much of a coward to admit it.

    1. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Ugh.

      Whining anonymous coward whines about how an eminent scientist is a coward for not hiding behind anonymity whilst promoting his theories.

      If you disagree with his stance so much, why not do the math and prove him wrong, thereby shutting him up all nice and official like?

      Thats right, you can't. While having six fingers is great for playing the banjo, the ability to only count up to 12 limits your ability for high end mathematics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Re: Ugh.

        Post Of The Day.


    2. Anonymous Coward

      Hawking plugging atheism?

      Am I correct in assuming you are not of the atheist persuasion. If so you should take comfort in the notion that Mr. Deity put Hawking in a wheelchair the best part of five decades, no doubt in retaliation for not praising him enough.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hawking plugging atheism?

        An this is the problem with your world view - it's centered around the/a/your-ex/your-parent's chruch/temple/religion. etc. -- another anonymous coward

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hawking plugging atheism?

        I don't think you are correct. An atheist would be much more likely to be annoyed than a believing Christian. Atheism is nothing to be ashamed of, etc.

      3. Charles Manning

        I used to mildly tolerate of $Deitists....

        until we had the Christchurch earthquakes.

        If god is omnipotent, then he either caused the earthquakes or knew they were coming and could have stopped them. At worst he's a bloody murderer. At best he's culpably negligent (like an adult watching a toddler play in the road as a truck comes driving along).

        Then we had all the christians tell us to go to church and be thankful for not being killed..... So hang on a bit.... you snuff out Johnny, and not me... so I should be thankful!

        -ENOCOMPUTE. Tis enough to break any rational brain!

        Now there's a whole lot of bun-fighting about restoring the Christchurch cathedral. I say just leave it standing as a tumbled wreck... a monument to the ignorance that is religion.

        1. Rumournz

          Re: I used to mildly tolerate of $Deitists....

          have an-up vote.. well some people do call Christchurch "the village of the dammed"

          it seems it was true...

          Satan, just because

        2. Tom 7

          Re: I used to mildly tolerate of $Deitists....

          There's even a deist saying the Oklahoma tornado was because there wasn't enough christianity in the schools.

          Suffer the little children....

        3. Fibbles

          Re: I used to mildly tolerate of $Deitists....

          "If god is omnipotent, then he either caused the earthquakes or knew they were coming and could have stopped them. At worst he's a bloody murderer. At best he's culpably negligent (like an adult watching a toddler play in the road as a truck comes driving along)."

          Reminds me of that quote which is usually attributed to Epicurus.

          "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

          1. Uffish

            Re: Godwin....

            I remember when it used to be nazis.

    3. Sam Therapy
      Thumb Down

      Re: Ugh.

      You, Sir - or Madam - are a tit.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wasn't it DECtalk?

    Wasn't Hawking originally a DECtalk user? Is that the "really old chip" that the article rambles about, 'cos if so, that's rubbish.

    DECtalk is/was a set of text to speech algorithms which can be implemented in various ways. Hawking reportedly used a DTC01 hardware-centric implementation (first released in the mid 1980s). Creative Labs licenced the technology for use on some SoundBlaster cards. Later, there was also at least one set of software to run on a PC that would make the expected DECtalk noises by generating them mostly in software to feed through any "standard" sound card (or sound chip); a limited demo version was at one time freely downloadable and may still be available from mirror sites (but beware of imitations and malware).

    DEC eventually sold off the division that owned the DECtalk technology and I lost track of where it ended up (Wikipedia claims to know).

    Have a listen to and see if you recognise it.

    Afaik, there's no technical need for Intel to develop a specific chip to replace Hawking's kit; any 'standard' sound chip (which Intel don't make?) and an implementation of the DECtalk software (which Intel don't own?) will do the job. Except that (afaik) Intel don't own any of the relevant technology, and therefore all they can do is develop a soundalike (which may not even be a workalike).

    Another triumph for Intel. Not.

    1. Blank Reg

      Re: Wasn't it DECtalk?

      Yup it's a DecTalk, I worked extensively with those back in the early 90's. But I thought Hawking was still using a DecTalk based system.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Wasn't it DECtalk?

        It's DEC - that explains why he is still working 50years after he was supposed to croak

    2. Nick Kew

      Re: Wasn't it DECtalk?

      My first reaction on seeing the headline: WTF have Hawking and Intel got to do with each other?

      D***. Used them both in the same sentence. Intel have won.

    3. elreg1990
      Thumb Up

      Re: Wasn't it DECtalk?

      You are right, I think it is DECTalk.

      I used to work fort a british firm making communication aids, we moved to HQ acapela voices, but we had old units with DECTalk in the past (before they shifted to being add in cards), and people with those wanted the old style ones still, it is thier identity.

    4. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Wasn't it DECtalk?

      Sure sounds like it, but here's the scoop, from the "Hawk" himself:

      "Speech Synthesizers (3 copies):

      Manufacturer - Speech Plus (Incorporated 1988, Mountain View, CA)

      Model - CallText 5010"

      and more, from that unimpeachable source, Wikipedia:

  5. Fibbles

    Brand Hawking?

    I see where you're coming from but after this long that ancient voice synthesiser is Hawking's voice. He has as much right to be upset about it as any of us would be if our larynges were somehow altered.

    1. zooooooom

      Re: Brand Hawking?

      I don't even think this is new - he's turned down improved speach devices before.

      Tech corp tries to get free marketing by designing thing person previously said was unwanted. meh.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Title says it all.

  7. roger stillick

    speak command of C-64

    Back in the mid 1980's our local Commodore club made 30 some disk magazine disks that had a built in speak command that ran as the text ran on the screen... the slow speech was hypnotizing...

    We stole the code by reverse engineering the code on a commercial c-64 magazine disk...probably couldn't do that today...I believe it was an IBM binary routine, now part of their speech stuff- but Steven Hawking it was !! RS.

  8. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    From back in 2006

    The wheelchair-bound Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, communicates with an electronic speech synthesizer. Hawking was asked why his computerized voice has an American accent.

    "The voice I use is a very old hardware speech synthesizer made in 1986," he said. "I keep it because I have not heard a voice I like better and because I have identified with it."

    He said he once considered using a machine that gave him a French accent, but he did not because his wife would divorce him.

    1. 0laf Silver badge

      Yup I had a recollection of something like that too. That he'd had offer of new technology to improve the quality of his simulated voice but that he'd refused because the robotic voice was now 'his' voice and he didn't want it changed.

      I suppose from the technologists point of view they don't really want someone well known using what appears to be technology from 20yr ago. Makes them look bad.

  9. paulc

    Old news


  10. Steve Brooks

    " But if Intel is successful, the rest of us should notice absolutely no difference. ®" Ooh look, a tech company that has finally got it, something that MS has failed to grasp. What people want is something that's more stable, faster, more efficient and works on lower level hardware, but appears in every other way to be exactly the same as what I was using before.

  11. timthorn

    HD Voice?

    Bring back the SPO256AL!

  12. The Onymous Coward

    A Cambridge grad once told me of a friend of his, who turned on her bath taps and left the bath to fill up. She forgot about the bath, which ended up overflowing and causing water to seep into the room downstairs. She turned the taps off and made her way downstairs to apologise to her soggy neighbour. Lo and behold, who answers the door, but Stephen Hawking. The girl explains what happened and apologises profusely. Hawking taps away on his speech synthesiser for a few seconds, after which the machine utters the words, "you stupid b*tch"!

    1. bearded bear can

      Even if it's not entirely true, I raise my glass to your anecdote, Sir !

    2. Hieronymus Howerd

      Of course, all baths have that extra drain thing at the top to prevent that happening, but nice story all the same.

      1. Kubla Cant

        @Hieronymus Howerd

        Yet bath overflows do happen. My impression is that two taps can fill faster than the overflow drain can empty.

        1. Anonymous Cowerd
          Thumb Up

          @Kubla Cant

          "My impression is that two taps can fill faster than the overflow drain can empty."

          Yes. Mine does that. I've flooded my bathroom on more than one occasion.

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

            Re: @Kubla Cant

            What is this bath you speak of?

    3. zb

      If that is an apocryphal story ...

      I would have finished it like this:

      Hawking taps away on his speech synthesiser for a few seconds, after which the machine utters the words, "take off your towel and sit down"

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Considering his recent behaviour

    They should give him a really stereotypical Shylock-style accent.

  14. Glug

    Did someone's synthesiser say boycott?

    So Hawking definitely isn't boycotting Israel then, because otherwise he wouldn't want anything to do with Intel chips. Good to know...

    1. Arnold Lieberman

      Re: Did someone's synthesiser say boycott?

      Boycott shmoycott!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hawking: Feet Of Clay

    I used to admire Hawking. Not only did I buy his book for the masses, I read it all. And I disagreed with some of its assertions.

    Now he has violated a principle not of physics but of academia. There is a principle that academic personnel do not colour their work with politics or prejudice. Hawking has now done so, and the damage caused to his reputation and that of his University will persist for some considerable time. Only Notas Badoff above seems to have even dared hint at this facet - thank you Notas.

    I shall go further, and yes, I am doing so anonymously as fire will be drawn. I shall dare mention the names. Hawking withdrew from a Jerusalem, Israel conference following pressure from Palestinian activists. He has allowed politics and prejudice to discolour himself. The tarnish will remain even after he is gone and that Israeli-developed voice synthesiser of his has long fallen silent.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: Hawking: Feet Of Clay

      So you're allowed to have a political opinion (as you've just expressed) but Stephen Hawking isn't.

      What an arrogant stance.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Will Godfrey Re: Hawking: Feet Of Clay

        "So you're allowed to have a political opinion (as you've just expressed) but Stephen Hawking isn't....." Sure, Hawking is allowed to have an opinion, but just because it correlates to your naive politics doesn't make the opinion above criticism. How ignorantly arrogant of you to assume so.

  16. Tom 7


    Where did that go? Mix some midi in with some text and you had automatic singing.

    Mix it with an alcohol breath tester and your away!

  17. Matt Bryant Silver badge


    Hawking is worried a new synthesiser would expose he has a really squeaky voice!

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