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article imageMicrosoft launches app that uses AI to help blind people 'see'

By James Walker     Jul 13, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft has publicly launched an app that narrates the environment around its user to help blind people "see." Using artificial intelligence, it identifies people, documents and images in the surroundings and narrates their details, empowering the user.
Microsoft first announced Seeing AI in March last year. Since then, it has been continuing to develop the project, hailed as a "game changer" for the blind community. Currently available only on iOS devices, it combines artificial intelligence and a phone camera into a system that gives blind people information on visual details of their environment.
In a video introduction to the app, Microsoft showed how Seeing AI uses the company's Azure cloud, AI and cognitive framework tools to identify people based on their face. It can offer a description of their appearance by assessing their personal characteristics. The narration provided to the user even gives an estimation of the person's age.
Microsoft Seeing AI
Microsoft Seeing AI
The app can also read documents aloud. The AI scans text almost instantly when it's placed in front of the camera. It offers spoken hints to help align the camera's viewfinder with the page, ensuring the corners aren't cut off. Once the document has been signed, the AI kicks in to analyse its structure. This enables navigation by jumping between features such as headings and paragraphs.
Further capabilities of the app include barcode scanning to get information about products, image recognition and a photo scanning tool that can describe the environment captured in the shot. Some of the features are still in an experimental state and all are in active development.
Microsoft Seeing AI
Microsoft Seeing AI
Seeing AI is already having a transformative impact on lives. Microsoft said that users have been particularly impressed by the speed of the app and its reliability. One early tester was "blown away" by how quickly Seeing AI can identify and read out text on signs and labels, making everyday tasks easier.
"I really do think this app will be a game changer for many as it's just simple to use," said Jenine Stanley, a legally blind app reviewer for Main Menu, the American Council of the Blind's tech-focused radio show.
READ NEXT: Microsoft announces 'AI for Earth' initiative to use tech to help the planet
The launch of Seeing AI comes a day after Microsoft announced AI for Earth, an initiative that aims to use AI to help the planet. Both Seeing AI and AI for Earth are examples of Microsoft's ongoing efforts to promote AI as a transformative technology that should be welcomed. They're also important headline projects it can focus on when selling its cloud technologies to third parties.
Seeing AI is now available in the App Store on iOS devices. It's currently limited to the United States, Canada, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore but Microsoft said more countries will be added gradually in the coming months. The feature list can also be expected to grow. Microsoft hasn't said whether an Android version is in the works.
More about Microsoft, seeing ai, Artificial intelligence, Ai, Blind
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