Download the Software That Provides Stephen Hawking’s Voice

hawking capitalism future

Creative Commons image via NASA

Ah to be possessed of a highly distinctive voice.

Actress Katherine Hepburn had one.

As did FDR

And noted Hollywood Square Paul Lynde…

Physicist Stephen Hawking may trump them all, though his famously recognizable voice is not organic. The one we all associate with him has been computer generated since worsening Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, led to a tracheotomy in 1985.

Without the use of his hands, Hawking controls the Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit software with a  sensor attached to one of his cheek muscles.

Recently, Intel has made the software and its user guide available for free download on the code sharing site, Github. It requires a computer running Windows XP or above to use, and also a webcam that will track the visual cues of the user’s facial expressions.

The multi-user program allows users to type in MS Word and browse the Internet, in addition to assisting them to "speak" aloud in English.

The software release is intended to help researchers aiding sufferers of motor neuron diseases, not pranksters seeking to borrow the famed physicist’s voice for their doorbells and cookie jar lids. To that end, the free version comes with a default voice, not Professor Hawking’s.

Download the Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit (ACAT) here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, is currently playing in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Do Not Track: Interactive Film Series Reveals the Personal Information You’re Giving Away on the Web

If Facebook knows everything about you, it’s because you handed it the keys to your kingdom.  You posted a photo, liked a favorite childhood TV show, and willingly volunteered your birthday. In other words, you handed it all the data it needs to annoy you with targeted advertising.

(In my case, it’s an ancient secret that helped a middle aged mom shave 5 inches off her waistline. Let me save you a click: acai berries.)

Filmmaker Brett Gaylor (a “lefty Canadian dad who reads science fiction) seeks to set the record straight regarding the web economy’s impact on personal privacy.

Watching his interactive documentary web series, Do Not Track, you’ll inevitably arrive at a crossroads where you must decide whether or not to share your personal information. No biggie, right? It’s what happens every time you consent to “log in with Facebook.”

Every time you choose this convenience, you’re allowing Google and other big time trackers to stick a harpoon (aka cookie) in your side. Swim all you want, little fishy. You’re not exactly getting away, particularly if you’re logged in with a mobile device with a compulsion to reveal your whereabouts.

You say you have nothing to hide? Bully for you! What you may not have considered is the impact your digital easy-breeziness has on friends. Your network. And vice versa. Tag away!

In this arena, every “like”---from an acquaintance’s recently launched organic skincare line to Star Trek---helps trackers build a surprisingly accurate portrait, one that can be used to determine how insurable you are, how worthy of a loan. Gender and age aren’t the only factors that matter here. So does your demonstrated extraversion, your degree of openness.

(Ha ha, and you thought it cost you nothing to “like” that acquaintance’s smelly strawberry-scented moisturizer!)

To get the most out of Do Not Track, you’ll want to supply its producers with your email address on your first visit. It’s a little counter-intuitive, given the subject matter, but doing so will provide you with a unique configuration that promises to lift the veil on what the trackers know about you.

What does it say about me that I couldn’t get my Facebook log-in to work? How disappointing that this failure meant I would be viewing results tailored to Episode 3’s star, German journalist Richard Gutjahr?

(Your profile… says that your age is 42 and your gender is male. But the real gold mine is your Facebook data over time. By analyzing the at least 129 things you have liked on Facebook, we have used our advanced algorithm techniques to assess your personality and have found you scored highest in Openness which indicates you are creative, imaginative, and adventurous. Our personality evaluation system uses Psycho-demographic trait predictions powered by the Apply Magic Sauce API developed at the University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre.)

I think the takeaway is that I am not too on top of my privacy settings. And why would I be? I’m an extrovert with nothing to hide, except my spending habits, browsing history, race, age, marital status…

Should we take a tip from our high school brethren, who evade the scrutiny of college admissions counselors by adopting some ridiculous, evocative pseudonym? Expect upcoming episodes of Do Not Track to help us navigate these and other digital issues.

Tune in to Do Not Track here. You can find episodes 1, 2 and 3 currently online. Episodes 4-6 will roll out between May 12 and June 9.

Related Content:

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A Threat to Internet Freedom: Filmmaker Brian Knappenberger Explains Why Net Neutrality Matters

How Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive Will Preserve the Infinite Information on the Web

Ayun Halliday an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine invites you to look into her very soul @AyunHalliday

Google Makes Available 750 Icons for Designers & Developers: All Open Source 

google icons

If you're a designer or developer, thought you'd might like to know: "As part of their Material Design visual language, Google has open-sourced a package of 750 icons. More info here."

Over at Github, you can view a live preview of the icons or download the icon pack now.

Our friends at BoingBoing add, "They're licensed CC-BY-SA and designed for use in mobile apps and other interactive stuff." Use them well.


Cyberpunk: 1990 Documentary Featuring William Gibson & Timothy Leary Introduces the Cyberpunk Culture

"High tech and low life": never have I heard a literary genre so elegantly encapsulated. I repeat it whenever a friend who finds out I enjoy reading cyberpunk novels — or watching cyberpunk movies, or playing cyberpunk video games — asks what "cyberpunk" actually means. We've all heard the word thrown around since the mid-1980s, and I seem to recall hearing it several times a day in the 1990s, when the development of the internet and its associated pieces of personal technology hit the accelerator hard. At the dawn of that decade, out came Cyberpunk, a primer on the eponymous movement in not just literature, film, and computers, but music, fashion, crime, punishment, and medicine as well. That time saw technology develop in such a way as to empower less governments, corporations, and other institutions than individual people: virtuous people, sketchy people, everyday people, and that favorite cyberpunk character type, the "gentleman-loser."

We recently featured No Maps for These Territories, the 2000 documentary starring William Gibson, author of novels like Neuromancer, Idoru, and Pattern Recognition and the writer most closely associated with the cyberpunk movement. Cyberpunk describes him, a decade earlier, as  "the man who may be said to have started it all," and here he shares insights on how the literary form he pioneered made possible stylistic development within and the importation of elements of the wider literary and artistic world into the reactionary "golden ghetto" of the science-fiction industry. We also hear, amid a farrago of glossy, flamboyantly artificial early-1990s computer animation, from a number of cyberpunk-inclined artists, musicians, scientists, and hackers.

This lineup includes psychologist, LSD enthusiast, and NeuromancePC game mastermind Timothy Leary, in some sense a progenitor of this whole culture of self-enhancement through technology. How has all this worked out in the near-quarter-century since? It depends on whether one of Gibson's darker predictions aired here will come true: if things go wrong, he says, the future could in reality end up not as a grand personal empowerment but as "a very expensive American television commercial injected directly into your cortex." Fortunately for cyberpunks the world over, we haven't got there yet. Quite.

(And if this documentary gets you wanting to jump into cyberpunk literature, you could do worse than starting with Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy, two of whose books won the Philip K. Dick Award for best novel, all of which come with an introduction by Gibson, now available free online.)

Cyberpunk will be added to our collection, 265 Free Documentaries Online, part of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Related Content:

Take a Road Trip with Cyberspace Visionary William Gibson, Watch No Maps for These Territories (2000)

Timothy Leary Plans a Neuromancer Video Game, with Art by Keith Haring, Music by Devo & Cameos by David Byrne

William Gibson, Father of Cyberpunk, Reads New Novel in Second Life

What’s the Internet? That’s So 1994…

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Did the Wayback Machine Catch Russian-Backed Rebels Claiming Responsibility for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17?

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If you're a long-time reader of Open Culture, you know all about -- a non-profit that houses all kinds of fascinating textsaudiomoving images, and software. And don't forget archived web pages. Since 1996, Archive's "Wayback Machine" has been taking snapshots of websites, producing a historical record of this still fairly new thing called "the web." Right now, the Wayback Machine holds 417 billion snapshots of web sites, including one page showing that "Igor Girkin, a Ukrainian separatist leader also known as Strelkov, claimed responsibility on a popular Russian social-networking site for the downing of what he thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane shortly before reports that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 had crashed near the rebel held Ukrainian city of Donetsk." (This quote comes from The Christian Science Monitor, which has more on the story.) Girkin's post was captured by the Wayback Machine at 15:22:22 on July 17. By 16:56, Girkin's post was taken offline -- but not before had its copy.

To keep tabs on this story, follow Archive's Twitter and Facebook pages.

The Internet’s Own Boy: New Documentary About Aaron Swartz Now Free Online

On BoingBoing today, Cory Doctorow writes: "The Creative Commons-licensed version of The Internet's Own Boy, Brian Knappenberger's documentary about Aaron Swartz, is now available on the Internet Archive, which is especially useful for people outside of the US, who aren't able to pay to see it online.... The Internet Archive makes the movie available to download or stream, in MPEG 4 and Ogg. There's also a torrentable version."

According to the film summary, the new documentary "depicts the life of American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz. It features interviews with his family and friends as well as the internet luminaries who worked with him. The film tells his story up to his eventual suicide after a legal battle, and explores the questions of access to information and civil liberties that drove his work."

The Internet's Own Boy will be added to our collection, 265 Free Documentaries Online, part of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

The Big Lebowski Reimagined as a Classic 8-Bit Video Game

The above video brings together two things that few people of my generation can resist. The first hardly needs an introduction: at the risk of angering Coen Brothers fans with the comparison, their 1998 cult hit The Big Lebowski has generated at least as many endlessly quotable lines as Caddyshack did almost 20 years earlier, and it appeals to a similar contingent of slacker wiseasses. The movie gave Jeff Bridges—son of Lloyd, brother of Beau, and certainly a star in his own right before he played The Dude—the kind of cachet most actors only dream of. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have won his 2009 best actor Oscar for Crazy Heart without Lebowski, but I’m not saying that he would have either. And then, of course, there was the renewed interest in the “sport” of bowling, Hollywood weirdo and self-identified gun nut John Milius (who inspired John Goodman’s character), and the creamy vodka cocktail.

The second thing: the 8-bit video games that, believe it or not, represented a revolution in home gaming, and gave us the first Nintendo and Sega systems and games that, true confession, used to keep me up all night, like the various versions of Megaman (which you can play online here). The games now have legendary status and their definitively colorful, blocky aesthetic has been—or was at least a few years ago—the ultimate in geek nostalgia chic, along with a new wave of “chiptune” music made with, or inspired by, the 8-bit chips of the games of our youth. So what, I ask, could be more fun than bringing Lebowski and 8-bit gaming together for a 3-minute bowling game? Very little. As C-Net describes the video above, it’s “an experience we only wish we’d had back in the 90’s.” Made by CineFix, who have previously animated Pulp Fiction, The Hunger Games, Blade Runner and a string of other hits as 8-bit shorts, the 8-Bit Cinema Big Lebowski isn’t actually playable, but it should be. Regardless, it’s as fun to watch as you might imagine a mash-up of the Coen Brothers and Super Mario World would be. Get your nostalgia on.

Related Content:

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Download a Prototype of Ever, Jane, a Video Game That Takes You Inside the Virtual World of Jane Austen

Long Live Glitch! The Art & Code from the Game Now Released into the Public Domain

Want  to learn about Video Game Law? It's covered in our list of Free Online Courses

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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