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Facebook Launches Object Recognition Tech

Posted on 4.04.2016

Facebook has unveiled a new feature for the blind and vision impaired.

The feature, dubbed automatic alternative text (or automatic alt text), generates a description of a photo using object recognition technology. With the feature, people using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook. Previously, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they scrolled past an image in the News Feed. The new feature, however, offers a richer description, such as “image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

“While visual content provides a fun and expressive way for people to communicate online, consuming and creating it poses challenges for people who are blind or severely visually impaired,” Facebook said in its announcement. “With more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook. We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it.”

It is important to note that the new feature is possible because of Facebook’s object recognition technology, which is based on a neural network that has billions of parameters and is trained with millions of examples. Facebook notes that the automatic alt text is launching on iOS screen readers set to English first, but will be rolled out for other languages and platforms soon.

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