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How Can Artificial Intelligence Help Disabled People?

We tend to think of AI (Artificial Intelligence) as something futuristic. A little bit sci-fi. Not really anything to do with us normal people living our normal lives.

But chances are, you probably make use of artificial intelligence in your day-to-day life a lot more regularly than you might think.

If you’ve ever used Siri, Alexa or Cortana to help with your online shopping, that’s artificial intelligence. If you’ve ever looked at Google Maps for traffic updates, or used Uber to get a lift somewhere, that’s artificial intelligence. Even the way your email inbox categorises messages is a form of artificial intelligence.

Some of you might not like the idea too much, and that’s understandable. We’ve all heard the stories of Amazon’s Alexa listening in to conversations at the dinner table. Ever seen the 1973 film Westworld, about Yul Brynner’s robotic gunslinger gone rogue? That’s enough to get anyone a little twitchy about letting more artificial intelligence into our lives.

But should society be more welcoming of advances in artificial intelligence, especially for the value they could bring to the lives of those with disabilities?

The Benefits of Driverless Cars for the Disabled

The truth is, AI is fast becoming a huge part of the way we live whether we like it or not. And for disabled people the opportunities could be invaluable.

Artificial intelligence driverless car
Artificial intelligence in driverless cars could help the visually impaired

For example, if you’ve got visual or hearing impairments you’re likely unable to drive. This might stop you from commuting to certain jobs or accepting invitations from friends without depending on the assistance of somebody else.

Driverless cars are very much a realistic possibility for the future, and they’d be ideal for those with limited eyesight or hearing. A driverless car could describe locations and surroundings to the blind or use sign language to keep deaf people informed.

Even if you don’t want to get behind the wheel of a driverless car (so to speak), recent experiments have suggested that they could be used for errands like getting groceries delivered to your door.

Artificial Intelligence and Home Computers

Artificial intelligence is quickly making computers and tablets more accessible for disabled people.

Microsoft’s Seeing AI is a free app that narrates the world around you, describing people, text and objects through the power of artificial intelligence. It helps those with visual impairments to recognise friends and their facial expressions and to read text quickly with audio guidance, and it can even recognise currency bills and products in the supermarket.

Another computer program that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence is Windows Hello, a biometrics-based technology which logs you into your computer with a fingerprint, iris scan or facial recognition. For those with physical disabilities, or for someone with dyslexia who struggles to remember a password, this could be brilliant.

And researchers are also developing machine learning applications that could help the visually impaired to safely navigate busy environments. They could even help them to run marathons in the future.

So, are you excited about the future of AI? Or do you think it’s just another example of Big Brother having too much power?

Whichever way you feel about it, it’s hard to deny that the more this technology understands about the limitations faced by disabled people in their everyday lives, the more help it can potentially be.