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This article was published on April 5, 2016

Facebook’s iOS app now uses AI to help the blind ‘see’ photos

Facebook’s iOS app now uses AI to help the blind ‘see’ photos Image by: Facebook

In an effort to improve the social networking experience for users with visual impairments, Facebook has introduced a new feature in its iOS app to help them ‘see’ photos.

With the help of AI, the app automatically generates a description of each photo a user comes across. When they’re using a screen reader on iOS, they’ll be able to hear a list of items in the pictures, such as “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

The descriptions, called Automatic Alternative Text, are generated as image alt text. It’s a standard HTML attribute designed for increased accessibility that screen reading tools can easily pick up.

The AI behind this uses Facebook’s object recognition technology to identify what’s in a photo. The company says it took 10 months to develop the feature to its current stage, using neural networks that mimic the brain to learn how to recognize images after being trained with millions of examples.

Automatic alternative text is now available in English for iOS users in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Facebook says it will soon roll it out to more platforms, languages, and countries.

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