Apr 06, 2016

    Facebook launches AI technology to describe photos to visually impaired


    FACEBOOK on Monday began using artificial intelligence to help people with visual impairments enjoy photos posted at the leading social network.

    It introduced machine learning technology trained to recognise objects in pictures and then describe the photos aloud.

    "As Facebook becomes an increasingly visual experience, we hope our new automatic alternative text technology will help the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it," said accessibility specialist Matt King.

    The feature is being tested on mobile devices powered by Apple iOS software and which have screen readers set to English.

    Facebook plans to expand the capability to devices with other kinds of operating systems and add more languages, according to Mr King, who lost his vision as a United States college student studying electrical engineering.

    The technology works across Facebook's family of applications and is based on a "neural network" taught to recognise things in pictures using millions of examples.

    More than two billion pictures are shared daily across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, Mr King said.

    "While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is a huge step towards providing our visually impaired community with the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos," he added.

    The Silicon Valley-based social network said it is moving slowly with the feature to avoid potentially offensive or embarrassing gaffes when it comes to automatically describing pictures.

    Words used in descriptions include those related to transportation, outdoor settings, sports, food and people's appearances.

    The Facebook technology made its debut less than a week after Microsoft enticed software developers with a suite of offerings that let them tap into the power of cloud computing, big data and machine learning.