Facebook programs computers to describe photos for the blind

Posted at 7:45 AM, Apr 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-05 04:59:23-04

MENLO PARK, Calif. - Facebook is training its computers to become seeing-eye guides for blind and visually impaired people as they scroll through the pictures posted on the world's largest online social network.

The feature rolling out Tuesday on Facebook's iPhone app interprets what's in a picture using a form of artificial intelligence that recognizes faces and objects. The iPhone's built-in screen reader, VoiceOver, must be turned on for Facebook's photo descriptions to be read. For now, the feature will only be available in English.

The descriptions initially will be confined to a vocabulary of 100 words in a restriction that will prevent the computer from providing a lot of details. Eventually, Facebook hopes to refine the technology so it's more precise and even answers questions that a user might pose about a picture.