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$25mn Microsoft AI Initiative to Empower People with Disabilities

Only one in 10 people with disabilities globally has access to assistive technologies and products

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Privacy is human right: Satya Nadella. Pixabay
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Harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help people with disabilities, Microsoft has announced “AI for Accessibility” — a new $25 million, five-year programme for developers globally including in India.

The programme will put AI tools in the hands of developers to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions for people with disabilities.

“It is important for us to figure out how to empower more people. It has been a personal passion of mine to help people suffering with disabilities like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and autism,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the gathering at “Build 2018,” the company’s annual developers’ conference here on Monday.

Also Read: Microsoft Partners With China Based DJI, World’s Largest Drone Company

“AI for Accessibility is a grand programme for the researchers, NGOs and developers — providing them with platform technologies so that they can help over one billion people with disabilities,” Nadella added.

Only one in 10 people with disabilities globally has access to assistive technologies and products.

Microsoft
Microsoft. (Wikimedia commons)

Meanwhile, several Microsoft applications are currently helping people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing with real-time captioning of conversations.

In India, students are creating AI and Machine Learning (ML)-based apps with the help from Microsoft.

“Practikality” app, developed by Amity International School, Gurugram, is one such ML-based assistant to help the differently-abled communicate efficiently.

“It is very interesting to see that students are applying the AI technology in different ways in several use cases, helping us in industries like healthcare and education,” Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India, recently told IANS.

The tech giant last year hosted its first “Accessibility Summit” in India.

The summit featured unique technology-based projects that empower people with disabilities. These included innovations from non-profit organisations, assistive technologies developed by partners as well as Microsoft solutions.

The “AI for Accessibility” programme will be run by Microsoft Accessibility team and its leader Jenny Lay-Flurrie who is Chief Accessibility Officer.

Microsoft's building.
The office building of Microsoft. Pixabay

“By making AI solutions more widely available, we believe technology can have a broad impact on this important community,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith.

“AI advances like these offer enormous potential by enabling people with vision, hearing, cognitive, learning, mobility disabilities and mental health conditions do more in three specific scenarios: employment, modern life and human connection,” Smith reiterated.

To begin with, the programme will provide seed grants of technology to developers, universities, non-governmental organisations and inventors.

“Next, we will identify the projects that show the most promise and make larger investments of technology and access to Microsoft AI experts to help bring them to scale.

Also Read: AI- Powered Microsoft 365 Business Tool to Protect SMBs

“Thirdly, as we infuse AI and inclusive design across our offerings, we will help our partners incorporate AI innovations into platform level services to empower others to maximise the accessibility of their offerings,” Smith informed.

Helpicto, an application that turns voice commands into images, is enabling children in France with autism to better understand situations and communicate with others.

“Seeing AI” and auto alt-text features are helping narrate the world for people who are blind or low vision.

Microsoft last year introduced “AI for Earth” — a comprehensive programme to apply AI towards unlocking solutions to climate, water, agriculture and the biodiversity issues. (IANS)

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Microsoft To Acquire Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The acquisition of Semantic Machines in May brought a revolutionary new approach to conversational AI

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Microsoft acquires conversational AI and bot development firm. Pixabay

Microsoft has announced to acquire a conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bot development company XOXCO for an undisclosed sum.

Texas-based XOXCO has been paving the way in conversational AI since 2013 and was responsible for the creation of Howdy, the first commercially available bot for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

“It also developed Botkit which provides the development tools used by hundreds of thousands of developers on GitHub. Over the years, we have partnered with XOXCO and have been inspired by this work,” said Lili Cheng, Corporate Vice President, Conversational AI at Microsoft on Thursday.

Conversational AI is quickly becoming a way in which businesses engage with employees and customers — from creating virtual assistants and redesigning customer interactions to using conversational assistants to help employees communicate and work better together.

According to Gartner, “by 2020, conversational artificial intelligence will be a supported user experience for more than 50 percent of large, consumer-centric enterprises”.

The Microsoft Bot Framework, available as a service in Azure and on GitHub, today supports over 360,000 developers.

Microsoft, PUBG
A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge. VOA

“With this acquisition, we are continuing to realise our approach of democratising AI development, conversation and dialog, and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate,” said Cheng.

Over the last six months, Microsoft has made several strategic acquisitions to accelerate the pace of AI development.

The acquisition of Semantic Machines in May brought a revolutionary new approach to conversational AI.

In July, it acquired Bonsai to help reduce the barriers to AI development by combining machine teaching, reinforcement learning and simulation.

Also Read- YouTube Premium Service Expands to 7 New Countries

In September, Microsoft acquired Lobe, a company that has created a simple visual interface empowering anyone to develop and apply deep learning and AI models quickly, without writing code.

“The acquisition of GitHub in October demonstrates our belief in the power of communities to help fuel the next wave of bot development,” Microsoft said. (IANS)