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Writing fast with any muscle

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  • UserProfessor David MacKay, Department of Physics, Cambridge
  • ClockTuesday 29 September 2009, 15:15-15:45
  • HouseWest Road Concert Hall.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Hannah Critchlow.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Clinical Neuroscience and Mental Health Symposium, 29th – 30th September 2009 at West Road Concert Hall. This event is free to attend for cambridge neuroscientists although registration is required. To register, and for further information, please visit:

Abstract: Keyboards are inefficient for two reasons: they do not exploit the predictability of normal language; and they waste the fine analogue capabilities of the user’s muscles. I will present two human-computer interaction systems, both designed from scratch using information theory. A person’s gestures are a source of bits, and the sentences they wish to communicate are the sink. We aim to maximize the number of bits per second conveyed from user into text. First, “Dasher” is a communication system that can be driven by one-dimensional or two-dimensional continuous gestures, or by pressing buttons. Users can achieve single-finger writing speeds of 35 words per minute and hands-free writing speeds of 25 words per minute. Dasher is free software, and it works in over one hundred languages. Second, “Nomon” is a selection system using a single switch. It adapts to the user’s timing accuracy, can be used for any task traditionally solved by ‘point and click’, and (in contrast to most selection interfaces) can exploit information about the probabilities of the alternatives.

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Biosketch: David MacKay is a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge. He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then obtained his PhD in Computation and Neural Systems at the California Institute of Technology. He returned to Cambridge as a Royal Society research fellow at Darwin College. He is internationally known for his research in machine learning, information theory, and communication systems, including the invention of Dasher, a software interface that enables efficient communication in any language with any muscle. He has taught Physics in Cambridge since 1995. Since 2005, he has devoted much of his time to public teaching about energy. He has written two books, both available for free online: Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms (CUP 2003); and Sustainable Energy – without the hot air (UIT, 2009). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 14 May 2009.

This talk is part of the Clinical Neuroscience and Mental Health Symposium series.

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