Microsoft Launches $25-Million Programme: The New ‘AI for Accessibility’

The Build conference in Seattle brought great news! Microsoft announced their launch of a $25 million project to use AI and to help build new technology for people with disabilities.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that the programme called ‘AI for Accessibility’ at the annual conference held for software developers.

During the conference, Microsoft showed their new initiative in building AI for social good. The project would also help with creating a better image for AI, with the latest concerns of privacy and ethics.

‘What Computers Should Do?’

Nadella started the conference with a declaration on privacy being a human right, mentioning dystopian fiction of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. He insisted on building technology on ethical principles:

“We should be asking not only what computers can do, but what computers should do. That time has come.”

The ‘AI for Accessibility’ project will last for five years, and it will give grants to startups, organizations, academic researchers, with Microsoft researchers making deeper investments and studies.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said in an interview that the company wants to help disabled people with AI tools. Future tech could allow them to have more independent lives and opportunities of employment:

“It may be an accessibility need relating to vision or deafness or to something like autism or dyslexia. There are about a billion people on the planet who have some kind of disability, either permanent or temporary.”

Brad Smith added that many of those people have great potential they can enhance with technology: “technology can help them accomplish even more.”

Previous accessibility tools from Microsoft have assisted blind, or people with low vision. The ‘Seeing AI’ is a free smartphone app that uses computer vision and narrates, helping their users to walk safely. The app was announced in the previous Build conference. The deaf users can use another Microsoft tool that captions conversations in real time.

Technology Advances for the Social Good

Nick McQuire is an analyst at CCS Insight and applauds Microsoft’s initiatives:

“People with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to technology advances, but Microsoft sees this as a key area to address concerns over the technology and compete against Google, Amazon and IBM.”

Smith has stated in the conference that other firms (like Apple and Google) have also worked on accessibility for years. He said that last year, the ‘AI for Earth’ initiative, helped to start projects focusing on climate change and environmental issues.

Microsoft’s new idea is to help startups build tools for people with disabilities, for a market that needs them, and for the social good.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere