AI and Disability: Are These Cutting-Edge Technologies Ready to Serve the Disabled Community?
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- [Announcer] This is Double Tap TV. (upbeat music) - Welcome to the show. I am Marc Aflalo. - And I am Steven Scott.
Mark, artificial intelligence. I think this is something we are gonna be talking about well, basically forever. I think for the next 300 years.
Long before, unless of course, AI can replace us, in which case, you know, future bots will just, you know, continue talking about it forever after we're dead. But you know what, let's be honest about this. Just looking back, I think that 2022, certainly the end of '22 and 2023 are going to be pivotal points in how AI was really, I think the first time we saw practical use cases for AI. - Yeah, there's definitely no denying it, Steven, that the only thing people have been talking about lately is like Chat GPT, Bing AI, and really every other service out there that is taking advantage of Chat GPT or artificial intelligence in general in whatever they're doing. We're seeing creative options like editing video and audio. - Yeah, there's photo generation, where you enter a phrase and it will show you a puppy dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, should you want it to.
- And of course, let's not forget, of course, how there's a lot of conversation going on about, you know, halting the development entirely and taking a step back. - Well, definitely lots to address when it comes to AI. And this week, we'll be drilling down on just a couple of them, including the latest feature announcement from Be My Eyes. It's called Virtual Volunteer.
- Yeah, this is an amazing new feature that puts AI in the driver's seat, so to speak, instead of a physical volunteer. But Steven, before we even get that far, can you remind people what Be My Eyes was originally founded for in the first place? - Yeah, well, you know, it's always good to look back on these things because you know, Be My Eyes is an app that's not been around that long. You know, like most apps when you think about it. It was founded by a man called Hans Jorgen Wiberg from Denmark, and he developed the app after a blind friend of his explained that he uses video calls to friends and family whenever he needed assistance. And Hans thought, "Hey, couldn't we get an app to do that and make it a little bit easier? Maybe get people who aren't friends and family?" Because, of course, one of the big challenges for many disabled people is we don't always want to ask for help.
We don't want to feel like a burden. So this was a way to try and get over that hump for a lot of people, but still get the assistance that we needed. Interesting to note, the app was launched for iOS in just January, 2015, not that long ago. But here's a fascinating fact for you, a couple of fascinating facts on this.
Within 24 hours of the app being launched, it had more than 10,000 users, which is fascinating. And since then, it's amassed a record number of volunteers. Like you say, human volunteers from around the world now reaching over 6.3 million people worldwide.
I mean, let's just think for a second. I think that's the largest volunteer base in the world. And this is important as well, in over 120 languages, because of course people are from all around the world, and available 24 hours a day. There's always someone available to help. It's quite a remarkable service. - What has your experience been with Be My Eyes? Because I know there are competing services, there's Aira, that you can subscribe to, but Be My Eyes was one of the first that was free to the user, right? They can connect with people and volunteers, but there are you know, things to know about when you're using a free service.
- Absolutely. I mean, you know, one of the things that I remember when I spoke to Hans years ago just after the launch of Be My Eyes, was one of the concerns that he put forward was that we shouldn't use this for, for example, you know, checking what our bank card number was or, you know, getting the total bill on our credit card statement, because there's personal information on there. So that's a reason maybe not to use a volunteer. Because look, we don't know who these volunteers are.
But you know what, for matching socks, for checking that this top doesn't have a stain on it, for making sure that, you know, you're buying your wife a birthday card and not an anniversary card, as I did do one year without the use of Be My Eyes. The next year though, it was corrected because I had Be My Eyes to talk me through it. You know, these are the kind of things that Be My Eyes really stands out for.
And it's actually quite profound. Going into a place like a card shop, being able to go in there on your own, go up to, you know, the cards, pick a card out and have someone on Be My Eyes read the whole card through with you so you know exactly what it says and be able to choose the card you want rather than just anything will do that says birthday on it. You know, it's actually quite profound.
You know, and then you think about going into a restaurant and maybe looking at a menu or you know, maybe you just want to check that, you know, the clothes you're buying are the right size and you just can't find a sales agent. You know, this is where Be My Eyes comes in and like I say, really profound, but also takes away that feeling of burden. And of course, what we're gonna talk about today might help that further. - Steven, you know, before Be My Eyes, obviously, you would rely on let's say friends or family to make a call or a FaceTime call and you were using, you know, your phone or your smartphone to that extent. Did you feel like you were putting a burden on others by doing that? Like did Be My Eyes help relieve that from you? - Oh, absolutely. You know, you call your friends
and family enough and that only has to be two or three times. And eventually, you might get that, "Look, I'm really busy right now, would you mind if I call you back?" Friends and family will do that. They will say to you, "Look, can you, I just don't have time." And the problem with that is, of course, you then feel like you're becoming a burden. Some people even will go so far to tell you you're a burden. So you have to be really cautious about that.
And as someone who has been through this experience, having something that I can use, which is volunteer driven, which means the person on the other end is expecting that call and wants to help, has been transformative. And I have not had one bad experience. I've used Be My Eyes many times.
I've never had a bad experience, despite the number of people on there and despite the number of potential problems, it seems that everybody is so excited. I see tweets about it all the time. People say, "I just got my first Be My Eyes call today.
This is so cool. I helped a blind person, you know, pick out a can of beans. They're not eating cat food tonight."
It's brilliant. You know, and this is the thing. You feel good, they feel good.
It just works. It's amazing. - Listen, and of course, the Virtual Volunteer Service is a new one that was recently announced thanks again to AI, artificial intelligence. So we're gonna be talking more about that this week with the chairman and CEO of Be My Eyes, and also putting Microsoft's vision of AI to the test. That is Bing AI, courtesy of a social media influencer who's extremely passionate about all things tech and has been doing a lot with Bing AI since the announcement. - Yeah, and playing with Google as well.
We'll get into all that. Stick around. We're going to be back in just a moment with the chairman and CEO of Be My Eyes. Mike Buckley's next with us here on Double Tap TV. - [Announcer] You're watching Double Tap TV. Get involved. Follow us @doubletaponair or email us. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Double Tap TV will be right back. - [Announcer] You're watching Double Tap TV. - Back on Double Tap TV. Steven, who is standing by to join us now? - Well, he is the chairman and CEO of Be My Eyes. Mike Buckley, thank you so much for being here on Double Tap TV, Mike.
Let's talk about Virtual Volunteer. What inspired this new feature that is currently in beta? - Well, the inspiration is really the needs of our community. We know that there are barriers to making a phone call. In fact, we did a survey about this a short time ago. And many of our users are hesitant to make a phone call 'cause they don't want to take a volunteer away from someone who might need them more, right? They feel less independent is something that they told us as well. And sometimes people just don't want to talk to a stranger.
I talked to a woman who said, "Look, my kitchen might be messy or my bed might be unmade." And so, we think that there are use cases where people will want to get assistance, but interact with technology or smart technology rather than a human. And it's really all about taking care of the community's, you know, desires and it's their choice. - Mike, tell us a bit about your relationship with OpenAI because the same artificial intelligence, let's call it an engine, that powers Chat GPT is what you're using with this new feature, right? - I called them, I guess it was either late December or early January to talk about ways that we might be able to work together, under the belief that technology can serve a lot of the needs of our community.
It wasn't really going anywhere. And then in February, very early on, the first or second, they called and said, "Hey, Mike, can you keep a secret?" And I said, "I think so." And they said, "We're gonna launch this tool." Which is this image to text generator and they let us play with it and it's remarkable how effective it is and the things that it can do.
And they said, "Are you willing to partner with us?" And we said, called them back the next day and said, "Sure, but there's something you need to know about us, philosophically and in terms of how we operate, and that is that our tools are free for the community of blind and low vision globally. And are you willing to work with us and provide the technology for free?" And they said, "Yes". And that was it. There was no contract or no paperwork, and we went to work and five and a half weeks later, we launched this into the world. - Mike, can you walk us through how Virtual Volunteer actually works? - Sure. It's going to be one button that you push in our app
which links you up to a screen, wherein you can take a photo of anything and it will immediately interpret that for you, tell you what's in the photo. The difference with this technology is the degree and success of the visual interpretation far exceeds anything we've seen in the market. That's number one. Number two, the analytical layer and contextual depth that's provided is remarkable.
So you can take a picture of the contents of a refrigerator and it will not only tell you what's in there, but it can tell you what you could make for dinner based on the ingredients that are in there. So that analytical layer and contextual layer is like nothing we've ever seen before. The third thing is you can converse with it. You can ask more questions. "Can you suggest a recipe?" "By the way, is there a low-fat content option based on what's in my fridge?" And so, all of those things are different.
And in terms of interesting use cases, I'll give you a couple. We took a picture of the Indian railway system and we simply asked, "How do I get from Bangalore to Delhi?" And it told us step by step instructions literally just based on the map in terms of what lines it could take. I also took a picture of my daughter playing a video game and I asked the tool, "What is this?" And it not only told me exactly what the video game was, but it told me a little bit about its history.
And then I said, "Oh, can you tell me that in Spanish or Hindi?" And it did. - Mike, do you think that there's a day that's gonna come where it's all AI and there's no human intervention? I'm not talking about robots taking over the world here, but in your case. - I mean, that phrasing is one that just scares the heck out of me.
And I think it scares all of us in a whole bunch of different levels, right, with AI? But let's be honest. Is it possible that the vast majority of use cases might be solved by AI? It's possible, right? But again, this really has to come down to the person's choice about, it's what what they want for assistance, right? And some of the beta testers that I've talked to have said, "This gives me my independence back". Right? And if that's the feeling of power and something that we can give to our community, that sense of independence, if that means that there are less volunteer calls, we'll take that trade off.
- And what does it say that blind people are at the forefront of this revolution in this new technology? - I think it's power. It excites me. So many people have told me, even just since I took this job, but even when I joined the board five years ago of Be My Eyes, the number of people who are blind or low vision who've told me, "I am tired of technology being thrust upon me, you know, oh this is "for me".
No, develop this with me", right? And that's the exciting part of the fact that blind and low vision are leading the charge on this visual assistant with OpenAI that we can get their feedback and we are getting their feedback literally every single day to help us iterate on the product and improve it and again, make sure the technology serves their needs. So to me, that's arguably as exciting as the technology itself. - Mike Buckley, thank you so much for taking the time to share your vision with us. - Thanks very much for having me. Appreciate it. - That is Mike Buckley, the chairman and CEO of Be My Eyes.
Steven, when we come back, a social media influencer who puts Microsoft Bing AI to the test as well as Google's. Stick around. This is Double Tap TV. - [Announcer] Can't get enough Double Tap TV? Subscribe to the podcast and get your fill of Double Tap every day. Visit DoubleTapOnAir.com and follow us now.
Double Tap TV will be right back. - [Announcer] You're watching Double Tap TV. - We're back on Double Tap TV talking all things AI.
Thanks again to Mike Buckley from Be My Eyes for joining us. - Steven, our next guest has her own YouTube channel. She can also be found on Instagram and TikTok under the name Carrie on Accessibility.
Carrie Morales, thank you so much for being here. Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself before we dive into things? - I am very passionate about technology and accessibility. Making it, exploring it, promoting it, all that kind of thing. I've grown up with technology and assistive technology, mainstream technology, all my life and it just is really something that really excites me. I also do accessibility testing and I'm a stay-at-home working homeschool mom.
- So let's talk about your journey into AI, artificial intelligence. You've been playing with the new Microsoft Bing search feature. How have you been getting on? - Yeah, I saw so many headlines and so many terrible headlines about certain things that the Bing AI was doing or saying. And I'm like, "Oh, this is really interesting.
I wanna see what it can do. How bad is it? (laughs) And also just play around and see how it answers disability and blindness specific questions." So it was really intriguing to me, as somebody who just loves technology and wants to know what's new, what's coming out. All those factors led me to going onto the waiting list just a few days after it was announced. And I did end up getting it, like a few days after.
And so from there, I installed like the Bing app. I've been using it, I would say pretty regularly, actually. And yeah, it's exciting and very scary technology all in one. - So tell me about the experience you've had asking questions about blindness and disability. - I did a live stream where I did, I asked Bing 50 questions related to blindness.
It ended up being a few more, but what actually happened is I went onto Google and I searched up the most common questions that people ask about blindness and visual impairment. And I came up with some interesting questions and I just, you know, real time asked Bing to answer these questions and it was, I would say pretty accurate sometimes. What I would consider is that it's very incomplete. It's very incomplete and it's very like it's very sure of itself when it answers instead of trying to lead you to other resources to find out more, it's like "This is the answer". And that's one thing that I didn't really like.
Also, it did get some things incorrect, like Speechify, considering it a screen reader Speechify is definitely not a screen reader. There were few things there. You know, it has access to the internet, so there was some parody that it was picking up and generating for people.
And I wasn't sure if that was on purpose, like if it did it on purpose or if not. And I asked it "What do blind people do for fun?" 'Cause apparently that, people really wanna know that. (laughs) So it starts listing things off.
Like it doesn't actually say, you know, "Blind people are just like everybody else and they can have fun doing whatever they find fun". It just starts listing different things. And one fear that I have is somebody who's doesn't know anything about blindness or visual impairment or just somebody who wants to know is going to use this information and rely on it as if it was completely true, as if it was an authority. - You know, it's interesting because you said earlier that you've got a fear around this technology. And I guess that part of it is that you feel the information is questionable that you're getting back, right? In particular around disability. Because as we know, disability is kind of still new to a lot of people, right? And it's even fairly new to the internet in terms of new information being available there.
- Oh, definitely, definitely. It has a lot of information. So when you ask it more general things that there is a lot of information on the internet and I would say there's a lot of information about blindness on the internet but in comparison to everything else, it is so much less.
And actually, I know we're talking about Bing, but I also tried out DALL-E, which is a art generating AI. And when you ask it to show you pictures of, so DALL-E is, you can ask it to generate pictures of anything you want, you can give it a prompt. And so I said "A woman, a blind woman reading a braille book". (laughs) And so, the pictures that it would bring up is just really scary, honestly. There were like women with their eyes, like hands covering their eyes and then like a bandana around it or like these weird like X's on their eyes and like I don't know what the AI thinks about blindness. And then the braille, it's basically these weird things on books.
They're like bubbles. And it was just so weird. So there's obviously a lack of information out there for AI to learn about blindness and visual impairment, I think. - Carrie, you mentioned earlier you did a live stream with you going hands-on with a lot of this technology. What was the purpose of that? Was it to kind of like highlight where the technology you know, isn't actually yet what people might think it is, but it isn't there? Or was it just so people witness you discover it for the first time? - I think it was both, a little bit of both.
I like to explore it, technology, right, and what it can do. And I wanted to give a real life demonstration, right? So I didn't go back and edit it. So it's really raw and genuine, in my experience. And then I also loved it because a lot of the community could learn with me and they could ask questions, like in the live chat. And they asked me to ask Bing extra questions and it was really interesting to see like their feedback, like the community feedback as well as just explore what it could do.
- Carrie, thank you so much for taking the time to give us your perspective. If people wanna find you, if they wanna follow you, where can they actually do that right now? - Yeah, absolutely. So on YouTube, I'm Carrie On Accessibility, you can search for that or you could just go to youtube.com/@carrieonaccesibili. I'm also Carrie On Accessibility on TikTok and Instagram and I'm also on Twitter. - And that is Carrie, C-A-R-R-I-E.
- Steven, where does the time go? Another question I bet AI will help us discover down the road. - We should put it into GPT and see what happens. - Yeah, ask GPT. Where does the time go when we're recording an episode of Double Tap TV? I'm not sure we'd get the answer. Thank you again to Carrie for being here. Thank you to Mike Buckley from Be My Eyes.
So much to get into, so much that we just don't have time for. Thank you for being here. On behalf of Steven Scott, I am Marc Aflalo. We'll catch you on our next episode.
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