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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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New Microsoft update for Windows 10 coming in October. 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.

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“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 Expanding its ‘Dyanmics 365’ Apps Lineup

The company has also launched AI-infused apps for sales, customer service and market insights as part of the "Dynamics 365" app line-up

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Microsoft adds 2 Mixed Reality business apps to 'Dynamics 365'. Pixabay

Microsoft is expanding its Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based “Dynamics 365” apps lineup with two new Mixed Reality (MR) business apps.

The new apps — called — “Dynamics 365 Remote Assist” and “Dynamics 365 Layout” — have been added with the intention of merging MR and business applications together.

“With the release of our new AI and mixed reality applications, we are taking another step to empower every organisation on the planet to achieve more through the accelerant of business applications,” Alysa Taylor, Corporate Vice President, Business Applications and Industry, Microsoft wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

The MR business apps will be part of the October release of “Dynamics 365”.

In 2016, Microsoft introduced “Dynamics 365” as a product line of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) applications to make business apps modern, unified, intelligent and adaptable solutions, integrated with Office 365 and natively built on Microsoft’s Cloud computing service Azure.

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

By bringing together MR and business applications, the company aims to unify systems and have a holistic view of their business, customers and employees.

“Employees need information in context to apply their knowledge and craft. Not only on a 2-D screen – but information and data in context, at the right place and at the right time and mixed reality is a technology uniquely suited to do exactly that,” Taylor added.

The company has also launched AI-infused apps for sales, customer service and market insights as part of the “Dynamics 365” app line-up.

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“The new ‘Dynamics 365 AI’ offering are a new class of AI applications that will deliver out-of-the-box insights by unifying data and infusing it with advanced intelligence to guide decisions and empower organizations to take informed actions,” wrote Taylor.

These insights are easily extensible through the Microsoft’s business analytics service — Power BI, Azure and the Common Data Service, that could enable organizations to address complex scenarios specific to their business. (IANS)