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Facebook uses AI to open up photos for blind users

Blind and visually impaired users of Facebook will be able to find out which of their friends are in photos thanks to facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition is already used by the social networking site – for example, to suggest friends that users may want to tag in photos – but the company recently extended the use of this feature for screen-reader users. The new feature means that those users will be able to hear which of their friends are in photographs that appear on the user’s news feed, even if those friends are not tagged in the picture.

A post on the Facebook Newsroom site describes how the facial recognition feature works by using AI (artificial intelligence) technology. “Our technology analyzes the pixels in photos you’re already tagged in and generates a string of numbers we call a template. When photos and videos are uploaded to our systems, we compare those images to the template.”

In 2016 Facebook launched an ‘automatic alt text’ tool that attempted to identify objects and people in photographs. The tool used object recognition technology to describe these elements for screen-reader users, though the scope of what it could identify was limited. Expressions, such as smiling, were described, but the tool was limited to mentioning the number of people in a picture, rather than their identities

The new feature means that screen-reader users will now be able to hear who is in a photo, with plans to continue developing the technology and what it can recognise.

However, as a privacy measure, all Facebook users will soon be able to switch this facial recognition feature on or off.

Find out more at Facebook’s Newsroom.

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