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Microsoft’s Seeing AI app shows how cutting-edge technology can empower the blind

“Now is definitely, in my view, the most exciting time in human history to be blind.”

That’s Australian National University law lecturer Cameron Roles, who has suffered from blindness ever since being born three months premature.

Technology has always empowered Roles and many others with impaired vision, but the rise of artificial intelligence is creating seemingly endless possibilities.

Microsoft’s free Seeing AI app is the perfect example.

In a nutshell, Seeing AI uses your smartphone’s camera to scan the environment and describe it back to you. The app relies on machine learning and cloud computing power to allow users to “see” the world around them.

It works with:

  • Short text: Instantly reads short lines of text as soon as they come into view of the camera
  • Barcodes: Tells you the name of a product by scanning the barcode
  • Document: Helps you copy documents by helping you capture every corner
  • People: Describes the general appearance and estimates the age of anyone you take a picture of. It can even remember familiar faces and call them by name if they show up on camera
  • Scene: Describes the composition of any photo (still in beta)
  • Currency: Identifies different notes to assist with cash payment

Person using Seeing AI app on smartphone to read document

Roles, for example, can use it to help his kids with their homework and find items in the pantry.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, says the tech giant is “providing computers with the intelligent capabilities to see, hear, talk and understand natural ways of communication.”

“This has profound implicationshttps://www.techly.com.au/wp/wp-admin/post-new.php#wpseo-meta-section-social for enterprise customers but also allows us to develop tools that promote inclusivity and allow more people to benefit from digital innovation.”

Kenny Johar Singh also works with Microsoft as a cloud solutions architect. Like Roles, Singh has a vision impairment, but does not let that get in the way of his career aspirations.

“I took a pivot into computers because they were the mechanisms I was using to access information,” he says.

“As I was losing my sight computers were quite an empowering force, so I thought ‘let’s make a career out of this’.”

Singh uses many accessibility tools to help him achieve his full potential in and out of the workplace, and Seeing AI has opened up all manner of new opportunities.

“I use it a lot to identify objects products and to read documents if I get them in a physical printed format,” he says.

“And I’m experimenting with the person identification capability.”

About the author

Andrew is Techly’s Assistant Editor. He keeps tomato sauce in the fridge and has a crippling fear of cardboard boxes.

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