Some of us might already be tired of hearing news about this or that AI app or assistant that’s able to identify objects or scenes or even read text off signs. We take such advances in computer vision and AI for granted mostly because we can actually see those things. That doesn’t come naturally to people with visual impairments, which is why Microsoft developed its Seeing AI app that turns iPhones into people’s second pair of eyes. Now that app is finally growing out of its roots to help more people around the world by learning how to read and speak five languages other than English.
Formally launched in 2017, the Seeing AI app pulls together software and technologies from various Microsoft Research experiments to create a power object recognition system. What makes the app different from other apps for the blind and visually impaired is that it’s an all-in-one toolkit for both text and objects. No need to switch apps just because you’re trying to identify a paper bill instead of a person’s face on a picture.
Useful as it may sound, Seeing AI was limited to knowing and using the English language only. It couldn’t read texts in other languages, much less writing in other scripts. That severely restricted its use from people who would need it the most in other countries.
Now the seeing AI can “speak” other languages, too. To be exact, it now supports Dutch, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish and can even recognize Japanese Yen currencies. This has helped empower no small amount of people from all over the world to not just follow their dreams but even to connect with family and loved ones in ways they couldn’t before.
Seeing AI is, unfortunately, still just available for iOS but it does support models going all the way back to the iPhone 5C, with some performance hits. It is available in 70 countries around the world, though they’d have to understand one or more of the six supported languages to make the best use of it. No news yet on when the app will arrive on Android, though, given Google’s expertise on the matter, it’s not hard to imagine Google Assistant gaining the same capabilities in the future.