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Facebook Taps Artificial Intelligence For ­sers With Disabilities

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Engineer Matt King, part of the Facebook Accessibility Team, at his desk in the company's headquarters

Facebook plans to launch an automated captioning tool in April to describe the contents of photos to the visually impaired.

Credit: Christopher Schodt/USA TODAY

Facebook is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the social networking experience for people with disabilities.

In April, the company plans to launch an automated captioning tool, which will help the visually impaired "see" photos by describing what is in them. When a friend uploads a new photo, the tool would say, for example, "Image may contain: two people, one toddler, smiling, outdoors."

Facebook eventually plans to provide a much fuller automated description of photographs and then videos. "These are our very first baby steps," says Matt King, a visually impaired software engineer who is part of Facebook's accessibility team. "It's really the idea that we are including everybody in the conversation."

Facebook's "empathy lab" consists of devices that browse the social network using keyboard shortcuts, braille, or the sound of a human voice. The devices are strategically placed along a busy walkway to remind engineers to build accessibility into all products.

King believes AI eventually will enable even greater advances for people with disabilities. "This is a problem that as machines get smarter, that machines can solve," he says.

From USA Today
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