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“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”


Stephen Hawking was hilarious.

2016: On his appearance in a Jaguar ad, Hawking said, “I have always wanted to be in a movie playing the part of a typical British villain.”

“One day there may well be proof of multiple universes… and in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction.”— Hawking, speaking in hologram form at the Sydney Opera House in 2015.

Among all the monumental achievements of the legendary British theoretical physicist’s life, which ended on March 14 at the age of 76, Stephen was humorous and ironic of the first kind

“Almost as many people know me through The Simpsons as through my science,” he once said. He had cracked some of the fundamental mysteries of the universe and also explaining them in terms that everyone could understand.

Indeed, his impact on pop culture is so vast, it’s practically a universe of its own.

Occasionally, there were jokes on TV that riffed on Hawking’s motorized wheelchair and his distinctive, computerized voice. They missed the point entirely.

The human race is so puny compared to the universe that being disabled is not of much cosmic significance,” he once said.

The Hawking meme that matters is the decades’ worth of popular culture in which he eagerly participated. He was an unabashed fan of Star Trek and The Simpsons, and delighted in playing larger-than-life versions of himself.

It’s hard to imagine where our understanding of the cosmos would be without the work of Hawking—and that goes for the pop-culture cosmos, too.

1999: Hawking and his flying wheelchair save the day on The Simpsons

“My treatment in The Simpsons was always good-humored. I was depicted as a somewhat surreal character with enormous powers,” Hawking said. “I hope I wouldn’t use a boxing glove… though sometimes I’m sorely tempted. But helicopter blades would be very useful.”

How AI helped Hawking communicate


For the last 10 years of his life, Stephen Hawking communicated only by tensing his cheek.

He wore a device on his glasses that monitored whether his cheek was flexed or not, and used the signal as a mouse-click to control his computer. When he first adopted this method, which one of his graduate students introduced in 2008, it was painfully slow and prone to error. It relied on a program called Word+ in which sentences had to be typed letter-by-letter, according to Wired.

Artificial intelligence helped make the system faster.

Frustrated with the speed at which he could communicate, Hawking reached out to Intel, which had in the past provided him with the computers he used to speak. The company sent a team to Hawking, and after years of testing new systems, worked out a solution with smartphone keyboard company SwiftKey, called ACAT (Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit).

The new software’s typing program relied on a machine learning algorithm that had been trained on Hawking’s work; SwiftKey and Intel showed the algorithm the physicist’s past lectures and books to help it predict which words he was about to type.

For instance, when he typed “the,” the word “black” and then “hole” would appear as options. This improved Hawking’s typing speed from his previous one or two words per minute, giving him the ability to speak conversationally.

2012: Hawking becomes the first (and only) funny person to appear on The Big Bang Theory

Note: inspired from an article by Quartz Obsession


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October 2020
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