Facebook is using artificial intelligence (AI) tech to describe photos to blind people.
In a move to improve accessibility to site, the social network announced Monday that it is using AI to automatically detect what is shown in photos that users upload — and will then narrate them to people who are visually impaired.
In one example Facebook gives, someone uploads a photo of a couple smiling while wearing sunglasses by the coast. “Image may contain: two people, smiling, sunglasses, outdoor, water,” the AI says.
Previously, blind users would only be told that someone has uploaded a photo — so if the user didn’t manually add a description, they would have no idea what’s in it.
“Every day, people share more than 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp,” Facebook’s head of accessibility Jeffrey Wieland and others wrote in a blog post explaining the update. “With more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook. We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.”
The new feature demonstrates the strides is making in AI and automatic image recognition: The social network is locked in an AI arms race with Google, both companies working to develop ever-more powerful AI systems. Google recently scored a major victory when its DeepMind division’s software beat a human world champion at the ancient board game — a major milestone Facebook had also been trying to achieve.
Here’s a video showing off the tech in action:
Twitter also recently introduced a new feature to help blind people understand photos on its network — but Facebook’s is far more advanced. While Facebook uses AI to automatically detect what’s in a photo, Twitter requires users to manually add a description, which it can then narrate.
Facebook says that the feature will initially only be available on iOS devices in English — but the company has plans to expand its availability.