Stephen Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology as a union of relativity and quantum mechanics.
He also discovered that black holes leak energy and fade to nothing – a phenomenon that would later become known as Hawking radiation.
Through his work with mathematician Roger Penrose Stephen Hawking demonstrated that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.
Prof. Hawking gained popularity outside the academic world and appeared in several TV shows including The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons and Red Dwarf.
He was portrayed in both TV and movie – recently by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, which charted his rise to fame and relationship with his first wife, Jane.
Eddie Redmayne paid tribute to him, saying: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
“My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”
In his 2013 memoir Stephen Hawking described how he felt when first diagnosed with motor neurone disease: “I felt it was very unfair – why should this happen to me.
“At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realize the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life.”
US scientist Prof. Philip Low is to unveil details of work on the brain patterns of Prof. Stephen Hawking which he says could help safeguard the physicist’s ability to communicate.
Prof. Philip Low said he eventually hoped to allow Prof. Stephen Hawking to “write” words with his brain as an alternative to his current speech system which interprets cheek muscle movements.
Prof. Philip Low said the innovation would avert the risk of locked-in syndrome.
Intel is working on an alternative.
Prof. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963. In the 1980s he was able to use slight thumb movements to move a computer cursor to write sentences.
His condition later worsened and he had to switch to a system which detects movements in his right cheek through an infrared sensor attached to his glasses which measures changes in light.
Prof. Philip Low is to unveil details of work on the brain patterns of Prof. Stephen Hawking
Because the nerves in his face continue to deteriorate his rate of speech has slowed to about one word a minute prompting him to look for an alternative.
The fear is that Prof. Stephen Hawking could ultimately lose the ability to communicate by body movement, leaving his brain effectively “locked in” his body.
In 2011, he allowed Prof. Philip Low to scan his brain using the iBrain device developed by the Silicon Valley-based start-up Neurovigil.
Prof. Stephen Hawking will not attend the consciousness conference in his home town of Cambridge where Prof. Philip Low intends to discuss his findings.
A spokesman said: “Professor Hawking is always interested in supporting research into new technologies to help him communicate.”
The iBrain is a headset that records brain waves through EEG (electroencephalograph) readings – electrical activity recorded from the user’s scalp.
Prof. Philip Low said he had designed computer software which could analyze the data and detect high frequency signals that had previously been thought lost because of the skull.
“An analogy would be that as you walk away from a concert hall where there’s music from a range of instruments,” he said.
“As you go further away you will stop hearing high frequency elements like the violin and viola, but still hear the trombone and the cello. Well, the further you are away from the brain the more you lose the high frequency patterns.
“What we have done is found them and teased them back using the algorithm so they can be used.”
Prof. Philip Low said that when Prof. Stephen Hawking had thought about moving his limbs this had produced a signal which could be detected once his algorithm had been applied to the EEG data.
He said this could act as an “on-off switch” and produce speech if a bridge was built to a similar system already used by the cheek detection system.
Prof. Philip Low said further work needed to be done to see if his equipment could distinguish different types of thoughts – such as imagining moving a left hand and a right leg.
If it turns out that this is the case he said Prof. Stephen Hawking could use different combinations to create different types of virtual gestures, speeding up the rate he could select words at.
To establish whether this is the case, Prof. Philip Low plans trials with other patients in the US.
The US chipmaker Intel announced, in January, that it had also started work to create a new communication system for Prof. Stephen Hawking after he had asked the firm’s co-founder, Gordon Moore, if it could help him.
It is attempting to develop new 3D facial gesture recognition software to speed up the rate at which Prof. Stephen Hawking can write.
“These gestures will control a new user interface that takes advantage of the multi-gesture vocabulary and advances in word prediction technologies,” a spokeswoman said.
“We are working closely with Professor Hawking to understand his needs and design the system accordingly.”
iBrain, a new device invented by Dr. Philip Low, CEO of California-based NeuroVigil, which was designed for sleep monitoring, may also be able to help people to convey messages merely by thinking them.
The gizmo “reads” brain wave patterns – and has been tested by renowned British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, who is paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Prof. Stephen Hawking is testing the tiny device that could, just possibly, allow him to “speak again” – reading his thoughts directly from his brain.
“We’d like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain,” NeuroVigil’s founder, Philip Low, told KGTV San Diego.
Dr. Philip Low told The New York Times: “The iBrain can collect data in real time in a person’s own bed, or when they’re watching TV, or doing just about anything.
“The idea is to see if Stephen can use his mind to create a consistent and repeatable pattern that a computer can translate into, say, a word or letter or a command for a computer.”
iBrain, which was designed for sleep monitoring, may also be able to help people to convey messages merely by thinking them
The paper explained that the algorithm used by iBrain, which Dr. Philip Low calls “Spears”, was indeed able to translate Prof. Stephen Hawking’s thoughts into individual signals.
Dr. Philip Low plans on making further investigations into this aspect of the iBrain’s capabilities, but in the meantime, it’s being used as one of the most effective diagnostic tools for sleep researchers money can buy.
The science for such a development looks promising.
Last summer Dr. Philip Low flew to Cambridge, UK, and personally tested the device on Prof. Stephen Hawking.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has left the astrophysicist almost entirely unable to control his body. Stephen Hawking moves and communicates in painfully slow fashion, using an infrared scanner that picks up tiny twitches in his cheek muscles and translates them into words with complex computer programs.
Stephen Hawking, 70, is losing his ability to use even those muscles as his disorder advances.
Fitted with the iBrain device, which is a black headband with a series of neurotransmitters that sit against the cranium, Stephen Hawking was told to concentrate hard on several simple actions, such as forming his hand into a fist.
Dr. Philip Low recorded the brain waves that the iBrain picked up from the actions and fed the results into his extensive mind-reading algorithm, called Spears.
With enough research, Philip Low believes he can develop software that will convert these brain waves into thoughts, and allow them to be translated into letters words and sentences.
Eventually, it might be possible to carry on entire conversations using only the iBrain and computer translation software hooked up to speakers, Dr. Philip Low told the New York Times.
But for now, the machine has plenty of practical applications.
Swiss drugmaker Hoffmann La Roche is working with NeuroVigil to develop software that will allow the device to monitor how drugs on working in the brain.
Dr. Philip Low says it’s a key step toward creating highly-effective personalized medication.
It can also be used to simply and quickly diagnose autism, sleep apnea, depression and other disorders that affect the brain.
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