Following Twitter's Accessible Images feature, Facebook has added AI to help blind people "see" Facebook.
On Monday, Facebook introduced "automatic alternative text," which will generate descriptions of photos on the social network. According to Facebook, people share more than 2 billion photos each day across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp, but users who are blind or severely visually impaired have not been able to interact with these images. More than 39 million people are blind, and over 246 million are severely visually impaired, and this massive chunk of the population has been left out. Now, Facebook has moved to remedy this with its new feature.
People using screen readers on iOS devices will now be able to hear a list of items a photo may contain. While this may not seem like much, previously, screen readers would only tell users the name of the person who shared the image and the term "photo" to describe the content. With Facebook's AI-powered automatic alt text, these users will now be told things like, "Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors." The feature will launch on iOS screen readers set to English at first, but will roll out in more languages and to more platforms soon. Facebook's Accessibility team used the company's object recognition technology for the feature, which is based on a neural network with billions of parameters and millions of examples. As the AI continues to learn, the team will be able to make Facebook even more accessible for more users. Twitter's Accessible Images feature is in-line with Facebook's concept, but users must manually enter the image's description, rather than having an AI do the heavy lifting.
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