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Stephen Hawking nixes Intel voice upgrade plan

Physics luminary 'quite upset'

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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 chip-baker in Dublin.

Hawking was presented with the Innovator's Courage award, but was unable to accept it in person, as he had a prior engagement in Los Angeles. A message from the black-hole innovator was played instead.

Intel's Justin Rattner was then presented with the 21st Century Industrial Innovation Award, something the vendor's CTO appeared unprepared for, saying "I had no idea I was going to follow Stephen Hawking."

Rattner then asked the audience if they'd noticed an improvement in the voice quality of the preceding Hawking message, explaining that Intel had developed an "upgrade" to the voice-synthesis system used by the Cambridge boffin which is based on an "ancient voice-synthesis chip".

Unfortunately, Rattner continued, Hawking had objected to the proposed upgrade. Unsurprising, as the robo voice has become a large part of Hawking public image.

"He got very upset," confessed Rattner, who described Hawking as a "friend."

This sent Intel into reverse, forcing Rattner to detail a bunch of the chip giant's researchers to a "special project to emulate a chip that no longer exists".

The results? A high-definition version of the same robotic voice, and the preservation of brand Hawking. Rattner said further details would be revealed in coming months. But if Intel is successful, the rest of us should notice absolutely no difference. ®

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