In his own words: Stephen Hawking to publish 'witty and candid account' of private life

New technology helped him to produce the manuscript without assistance, say publishers

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The Independent Online

The continuing onslaught of his degenerative disease meant many feared he might never communicate again. But this autumn Professor Stephen Hawking, 71, will publish what is billed as a disarmingly frank memoir detailing his extraordinary life in the first book he has written entirely under his own power.

New technology has helped the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge to produce the manuscript without assistance, his publishers said. 

My Brief History is being hailed not as another bestselling attempt to decode the mysteries of the universe but as his most personal book to date.

Final editing is still underway on the autobiography, which will be published in September, but it is promised that Professor Hawking will discuss his unorthodox childhood, his diagnosis with motor neurone disease as a 21-year-old PhD student, his pioneering work on quantum cosmology, his two marriages and the controversial circumstances surrounding their breakdown.

The physicist split from his first wife Jane, mother of his three children, in 1991. He married his nurse Elaine Mason in 1995 although the 11-year relationship also broke down but not before Cambridgeshire Police had investigated allegations of assault concerning his wife - claims which he described as completely false.

His publishers Bantam Press said the book would include photographs from his childhood and schooldays and provide a "witty, and candid account of the life of this intensely private and world-changing man, in his own words."

Publishing director Sally Gaminara, said: "It is a remarkable testimony to his courage and tenacity that we can do so". Professor Hawking's  A Brief History of Time, sold more than 10m copies and was translated into 40 languages.

Since it was published in 1988 his physical condition has declined requiring him to use a voice synthesiser, and latterly need round the clock nursing care, although he continues to work.

The professor controls the technology by voluntarily twitching a muscle on his cheek - composing words a letter at a time by stopping a cursor as it scans columns of text on a screen in front of him.

However his physical decline meant the process had become painstakingly slow and earlier this year it emerged that he was reduced to being able to produce a single word a minute.

Hawking met with Gordon Moore, the founder of computer giant Intel, who had helped devise the original voice synthesiser, asking to help speed up his communication. The company developed an upgrade which has improved the word prediction capability of the text system.

It means he is now able to produce between five and 10 words a minute and Intel is also working on ways of getting the computer to recognise other facial characteristics - including mouth and eyebrow movements - to speed the process.

Professor Hawking, who opened last year's London Paralympics, currently uses a tablet PC attached to a webcam on which he can make Skype calls.

Computers underneath and behind his wheelchair contain an audio amplifier and the voice synthesiser. These are controlled by infrared sensors on his glasses and respond to changes in light from his facial movements.

Describing his communication system he said: "They (Intel) also have some new ideas regarding my software interface and it will be interesting to see the results of this. It looks quite promising. I have also experimented with Brain Controlled Interfaces to communicate with my computer however as yet these don't work as consistently as my cheek operated switch."