Stephen Hawking, Richard Garriott and the Apple II


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The average intelligence of the human race dropped last week with the passing of Dr. Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist who conducted groundbreaking research into black holes, general relativity, and quantum gravity — none of which he may have been able to communicate without the Apple II.

The text-to-speech program that became synonymous with the renowned scientist was founded on the Apple II, as reported Wired in 2014:

Equalizer first ran on an Apple II computer linked to a speech synthesiser made by a company called Speech Plus. This system was then adapted by David Mason, the engineer husband of one of Hawking's nurses [Elaine Mason, whom Hawking would later marry], to a portable system that could be mounted on one of the arms of a wheelchair. With this new system, Hawking was able to communicate at a rate of 15 words per minute.

Hawking [became] very attached to his voice: in 1988, when Speech Plus gave him the new synthesiser, the voice was different so he asked them to replace it with the original. His voice had been created in the early 80s by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt, a pioneer of text-to-speech algorithms. He invented the DECtalk, one of the first devices to translate text into speech.

His trademark voice wasn't Dr. Hawking's only intersection with the Apple II over the years. He became friends with Richard Garriott, the intrepid explorer whose legendary role-playing games, Akalabeth and Ultima, took many an armchair adventurer into realms unknown. Garriott was likewise accompanied by Dr. Hawking on some extraordinary exploits: the two flew together in a "zero-g" flight in 2007.

Dr. Hawking's passing coincided with the annual media festival SXSW, prompting a programming change to accommodate a remembrance to the late physicist, "A SXSW Tribute to Stephen Hawking with Stories from Richard Garriott, Karl Gebhardt and Stephen Wolfram".

The world is poorer for the loss of Dr. Stephen Hawking — but Dr. Hawking and the Apple II community were richer for having known each other.

(Hat tips to Steve Weyhrich, Cult of Mac, India Today, iNews, and Spectrum Local News)

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