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Microsoft wants to use AI to help people with disabilities

It's one way the company is planning to make use of its AI smarts.
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Microsoft Accessibility team member Anne Taylor. Microsoft

One of Microsoft's biggest announcements at Build this year is all about using artificial intelligence for social good. Through the new AI for Accessibility program, Microsoft has committed $25 million over the next five years to helping people with disabilities worldwide (a figure that currently sits at over one billion, according to The World Bank). Just like its AI for Earth initiative, which uses the technology for environmental innovations, the company will handle this program through investments, grants and expert assistance when necessary. And, as you'd expect, the AI solutions will also connect to Microsoft's cloud services.

Specifically, Microsoft says the program will focus on accelerating the development of AI for help with employment, human connection and modern life. You can expect solutions similar to other AI-driven products from Microsoft, like the Seeing AI app, which can narrate what your phone is seeing, and Helpicto, which assists people with autism.

"Around the world, only one in 10 people with disabilities has access to assistive technologies and products," wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief legal officer and president, in a blog post. "By making AI solutions more widely available, we believe technology can have a broad impact on this important community."

As for other AI news, Microsoft says it'll be open sourcing the Azure IOT Edge Runtime, which will give developers even more control over how their devices connect to cloud services. Additionally, Custom Vision, the Azure Cognitive Service feature that lets devices detect and learn imagery through cameras, will be available offline. That should make it much more useful for industrial customers, since they won't be completely out of luck without an internet connection.

Microsoft has also partnered with DJI for a new drone SDK in Windows 10, and it's made a similar deal with Qualcomm for a computer vision developer kit. That'll make it simpler to bring AI smarts to camera-equipped IoT devices running Qualcomm mobile chips.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from Microsoft Build 2018!

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