Intel About to Save the AAC World? Hardly!

January 8th is the birthday of a very famous person – other than me. If  you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a scattering of articles in the media lately about Stephen Hawking because it’s his 70th birthday. As you might expect, this has raised some awareness and comment about his AAC system. And as you might also expect, a fair junk of it is wrong, trivial, or just plain silly. Still, it’s an opportunity for folks to crawl out of the woodwork and try to bask in some reflected glory.

Stephen Hawking

Happy 70th Stephen Hawking

Enter the Chief Technology Officer of Intel, Justin Rattner, in an interview with TechNews World, which you can read at the link below:

Justin clearly has a passion for marketing AAC. Apparently, “Intel is planning to gather data for further study on developing a new speech system for Hawking,” says Rattner, who is some 25-years late to the party.

“We can look at expression detection. Those who know him say they can detect expressions, and even if we only detect two, we have Morse code for example,” he suggested. Oooh, Morse code – there’s a new idea, Justin! Such razor-sharp intelligence is clearly why you’re the CTO.

“Whatever techniques we end up using, they have to be instantly usable, requiring no learning curve, and throughout all of this, we have to take great care to be sensitive to Stephen and his condition.” Crikey, Justin, is your Master’s degree in Technology or Obviousity? I suppose when you’re a CTO you can invent any solution you like with full knowledge that you won’t actually have to do it yourself.

“Eye movement detection is another option, but may be limited due to problems with accuracy.” I wonder if he’s ever heard of Tobii, who have not only developed such solutions but been selling them for years! Whatever Justin’s getting paid, it’s too much. Still, the link between performance and pay disappears when you get to the C-level; at that stage you get paid for NOT getting into too much trouble,[1] and platitudes are much better than products.

On the upside, the article writer talked to Carrie Bruce, an SLP at Georgia Tech, who has worked in AAC for some time and who provided a much more realistic comment:  “However, it is less about the control interface and more about an efficient and effective way for people to use language. There is a science to representing a person’s whole system of language through software, and often HCIs (health care information solutions) focus more on the interface and less on language.” Hoorah for that!!

I have a way to go to catch up with Stephen’s 70th but I suspect my mindset of being curmudgeonly and cynical is way ahead of him already! But when I see what is clearly corporate opportunism masquerading as concern, I get a little tetchy.

Now, where’s that bottle of bourbon…?

[1] Drunken parties, mis-use of the company jet, and sex with prostitutes is OK as long as you don’t get caught out – or at least as long as you have an alibi. Provided your expense account is appropriately annotated (do not use “$1000 for high-class hooker” but instead try “$1000 for customer interview”) you can get away with murder (especially if you simply hire a hit man rather than do it yourself.)


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