Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (Photo Courtesy: Business Insider)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (Photo Courtesy: Business Insider)

Today, technology companies around the world are trying to help and connect the disabilities to the emerging technologies. The likes of Facebook, Samsung, Toyota, to mention a few have been seen developing new technologies that can help disabilities be able to use their services, and not feel out of place.

Redmond-based software firm, Microsoft Corp. according to reports by Associated Press is said to be launching a USD$25 million (roughly 92.690 billion UGX) initiative to use artificial intelligence (AI) to build better technology for people with disabilities.

CEO Satya Nadella announced the new “AI for Accessibility” effort as he kicked off Microsoft’s annual Build conference in Seattle – that is meant to foster enthusiasm for the company’s latest ventures in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, Internet-connected devices and virtual reality.

The new initiative offers Microsoft an opportunity to emphasize its philosophy of building AI for social good. The focus could help counter some of the privacy and ethical concerns that have risen over AI and other fast-developing technology, including the potential that software formulas can perpetuate or even amplify gender and racial biases.

The five-year accessibility initiative will include seed grants for startups, nonprofit organisations and academic researchers, as well as deeper investments and expertise from Microsoft researchers.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company hopes to empower people by accelerating the development of AI tools that provide them with more opportunities for independence and employment.

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

“Those people already have huge potential, but technology can help them accomplish even more,” he said.

Microsoft has already experimented with its own accessibility tools, such as a “Seeing AI” free smartphone app using computer vision and narration to help people navigate if they’re blind or have low vision.

“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,” said Nick McQuire, an analyst at CCS Insight.

Smith acknowledged that other firms, especially Apple and Google, have also spent years doing important work on accessibility. He said Microsoft’s accessibility fund builds on the model of the company’s AI for Earth initiative, which launched last year to jumpstart projects combating climate change and other environmental problems.

The idea, Smith said, is to get more startups excited about building tools for people with disabilities – both for the social good and for their large market potential.

source: Associated Press