Stephen Hawking as man and machine

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Tuesday marked Stephen Hawking’s 71st birthday, an occasion that anthropologist Hélène Mialet commemorated with a fantastic essay about the legendary physicist’s place in history and popular culture. At the core of Mialet’s essay is the question of whether history will remember Hawking as man, or the machine to which he has been inextricably linked — and what that says about contemporary society.

“What I discovered was that to understand Hawking, you had to understand the people and the machines without whom he would be unable to act and think,” she writes. “You had to understand the ways in which these entities augmented and amplified Hawking’s competencies.”

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