Facebook’s new feature called Automotive Alternative (launched on Monday) has taken a big step in the direction of accessibility. This new feature is meant to allow people using screen readers to receive summaries of the content of photos posted on Facebook. The social networking giant is initially testing this new feature on the iOS version in English.

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Helping people with disabilities

A screen reader is software that provides spoken descriptions of what’s onscreen. Until now, the automated voice of a screen reader declared just the name of the person, the person’s shared text, and the word “photo” for a News Feed post with a photo. Facebook’s new feature will be of much help to people with certain disabilities as now they will be able to get a better understanding of the communications their friends are trying to make, and all this is possible because of artificial intelligence or AI. The new photo captions are short and very simple, says VentureBeat.

Speaking to VentureBeat, Facebook’s accessibility specialist Matt King said, “We’re … making it possible for people to feel totally included in the social interaction and be able to feel part of it without having to feel awkward, without having to be annoying to all of your friends, being like, ‘What’s so funny in this photo?’ Nobody wants to do that.”

It’s Facebook vs. Twitter again

Last week, Twitter announced that it is allowing users to manually include captions of the photos they tweet. Since then, both Apple and Microsoft have given hints regarding their commitments to accessibility. There is a stark contrast between what Twitter did and what Facebook is doing, however.

Facebook is spending a lot of money on AI research, while it was just last year that Twitter established its Cortex AI research lab. Deep learning is at the core of Facebook’s new feature. Deep learning refers to a type of artificial intelligence that involves training artificial neural networks on lots of data, like photos, and then “teaching” them to make predictions about new data.

Facebook’s neural networks have “seen” a lot of photos by now and learned to recognize what a photo contains. The fact is that people share more than 2 billion photos a day on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp.

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