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Facebook uses AI to add audio photo captions for the blind

The features uses object recognition technology to give a more detailed description of each photo

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
April 5, 2016
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/4481

Mark Zuckerberg has some pretty big plans for artificial intelligence this year.  Until he figures out how to literally become Iron Man and build an AI to run his home based on his voice commands, though, he's going to have to it for more practical purposes.

Such as giving blind people a chance to experience images on their phones.

Facebook has released a new feature for its iOS app, called automatic alternative text, which will use artificial intelligence to allow blind people to experience photos through the use pf object recognition technology.

The technology will give them a description of what is in each photo, including a list of items that appear when they are swiping through on the app. Previously all that they would get was a person's name and a voice saying "photo" when one came up on their News Feed, which is basically useless.

"While visual content provides a fun and expressive way for people to communicate online, consuming and creating it poses challenges for people who are blind or severely visually impaired," Facebook wrote.

"With more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook. We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it."

So far this is only going to be available in English but more languages are coming soon. 

There are plenty of people who love the possibilities of AI, including Zuckerberg, but there are plenty of others who fear it, including some very well regarded people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.

In an interview with the BBC, for example, Hawking once said that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

"Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded," he said.

Musk, meanwhile, has been on the forefront of the anti-AI movement for a while now, calling it the "biggest existential threat" to humanity.

Both of them also signed a letter last year, along with AI and robotics researchers, explicitly calling for the technology to never be used in warfare.

Regular people are plenty afraid of AI as well, though for different reasons. They think that that it will eventually take all of our jobs, and within man of our lifetimes. 

A feature like this should remind us of the power that artificial intelligence has to really better the lives of people. The timing of this feature is interesting, because I have recently thinking about blind people and their role in our ever changing society. We have all this great new technology that's coming out, and easier access, but is anyone doing anything to help those who can't see experience it as well? 

There's a lot of fear and demagoguery that goes on with new technology, but we should also remember the good it can do.


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