People with normal vision take many things for granted unlike their visually impaired counterpart. Going through Facebook for instance. We see everything. And read everything without even thinking about the process. That is why aiding the blind or visually impaired to see images using the Facebook artificial intelligence is a something to really celebrate.
Facebook artificial intelligence team were able to create a set of complex algorithms that describes to a blind person the images or photos their friends have posted on Facebook. Before now, the over 2 billion photos and images shared on Facebook was not part of the visually impaired person’s Facebook experience. This new feature on Facebook would dramatically change the way blind people interact with Facebook in a positive way.
Announcing the news on Monday, the Facebook team responsible for this ground breaking feature said,
“Every day, people share more than 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.
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. 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.
That’s why today we’re introducing automatic alternative text.”
Automatic alternative text (Alt texts) is at the heart of the Facebook artificial intelligence. Alt texts are words used to describe images by content creators online. People normally don’t see the alt texts. However, if Alt texts are done properly to describe images, Facebook artificial intelligence would be able to automatically recognize the content of the images by reading the alt texts. Then using the device’s built-in voice, the feature informs the blind person what are on the photos.
Facebook say all this is possible because, “…of Facebook’s object recognition technology, which is based on a neural network that has billions of parameters and is trained with millions of examples. Each advancement in object recognition technology means that the Facebook Accessibility team will be able to make technology even more accessible for more people. When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit.”
For now, the feature would only be available for iPhone users using the in-built screen readers in the smartphones. But first iPhones users need to activate the screen reader by heading to Settings, General, Accessibility, and tap on activate VoiceOver.
Facebook did not announce a definite date when this feature would be available to Android devices. But before it is finally rolled out to all devices, fine-tuning the feature is still on-going. Even for those able to use the feature, they would discover its limited range for now. One clear limitation is that it can be used by only those who understand English. Another limitation is the fact the feature cannot describe or recognize every image on Facebook. The database is still being enlarged and refined to include as many images as is possible.
For the world generally, this new development is a stark reminder about how far the development of artificial intelligence has come. We have seen it already deployed extensively in self – driving cars. The vision of a future of AI machines being very complex like humans is very real and not too far off.
Watch the video below to see a demonstration of how the new feature works in Facebook.
photo credits: google.com