For many patients with ALS, the goal is to sound like themselves -- not Stephen Hawking

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking died Wednesday, but his distinctive computerized voice lives on.

Thousands of people who have lost the ability to speak use the exact same computerized voice Hawking did.

Now, improvements in speech synthesis technology are helping patients with ALS and other diseases speak with voices that sound more like themselves.

About a year after Sandy Sjogren of Sun City was diagnosed with a fast-moving form of ALS, she heard about Modeltalker. Using the software and a headset microphone at home, she recorded herself saying about 1,600 sentences and phrases. She's glad she did.

"When people hear my voice they say it sounds just like me a year ago," Sjogren said through a text-to-speech device. She can no longer speak.

But what if Sjogren didn't record herself in time?

A company called VocaliD can begin to recreate voices that have already been lost by analyzing the sounds a person can make and blending them with recorded voices from a database.

The result is a personalized blend that's designed to be close to the person's natural voice.

The project relies on tens of thousands of donated voices. To donate your voice, click here.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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