Microsoft has announced the launch of an AI-based accessibility initiative to build better technology for people with disabilities.
Satya Nadella, the company’s CEO, kicked off Microsoft’s annual conference for software developers where he mentioned about the new “AI for Accessibility” initiative.
The five-year initiative for accessibility will have seed grants for startups, non-profit organizations and academic researchers and also deeper investments and expertise from Microsoft researchers.
Microsoft’s President Brad Smith said that in an effort to empower people to enjoy their independence and employment, the company will look to accelerate the development of AI tools.
Smith said in an interview that the accessibility need could be related to vision or deafness or something like autism or dyslexia. He cited that there are about a billion people across the globe who have some kind of disability, either permanent or temporary.
Earlier Microsoft has already experimented with tools such as “Seeing AI” free smartphone app that uses computer vision and narration to navigate people who are blind or have low vision.
The company’s translation tool helps deaf users with real-time captioning of conversations. Smith acknowledged other firms like Apple and Google who have been working on accessibility for years.
He said that Microsoft’s accessibility fund builds on the company’s AI for Earth Initiative model, which launched last year. It jumpstarted projects for combating climate change and other environmental problems.
Smith also said that the idea of the conference is to get more people excited about developing apps and other services for the social good and also for their large market potential. The Build conference would also feature partnerships with drone company DJI and chipmaker Qualcomm.
Microsoft’s main competitors are Google and Amazon when it comes to providing Internet-connected services to businesses and organizations.
Microsoft’s latest ventures in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, internet-connected devices and virtual reality are the focus of the Build Conference in Seattle.
The Artificial Intelligence domain has taken off at a great pace in recent times. However, along with world-class technology, various services that use AI have come under harsh criticism for compromising the privacy of people.
The conference is an opportunity for Microsoft to address the problem and focus on building AI for social good. It could help in countering all the privacy and ethical concerns that have risen over AI and other new technology. Concerns have even risen that software formulas can, at times, amplify gender and racial bias.
Nadella took the platform to also address that privacy should be of utmost concern for any technology that anyone develops. He used the dystopian fiction of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley as examples to say that privacy is every human’s right and further warned the perils of creating new technology without keeping ethical principles in mind.
He mentioned that the time had come to not only ask what computers can do but also ask what computers should do.
Over 6,000 people have already registered and most of them are developers who build apps for Microsoft products. The conference is being held at Seattle, which is close to the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.