I’m totally blind. Artificial intelligence is helping me rediscover the world.

When I first heard about Be My AI—a new collaboration between Open AI and Be My Eyes, an app that connects sighted volunteers with blind people who need help via video call—I didn’t let myself get too excited. Be My AI promised to allow blind people to receive an A.I.–generated description of any photo we uploaded. This was a tantalizing prospect, but it wasn’t the first time a tech company had promised to revolutionize the way people with disabilities access visual content. Microsoft had already given us Seeing AI, which in a very rudimentary way provided a rough idea of what was going on in the images we shared, and which allowed us—again, in a fairly basic way—to interact with information contained in written texts. But the details were missing, and in most cases we could know only that there was a person in the picture and what they were doing, nothing more. Be My AI was different.

Suddenly, I was in a world where nothing was off limits. By simply waving my cellphone, I could hear, with great detail, what my friends were wearing, read street signs and shop prices, analyze a room without having entered it, and indulge in detailed descriptions of the food—one of my great passions—that I was about to eat.

I like to make fun of “AI” – those quotes are there for a reason – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be truly useful. This is a great example of this technology providing a tangible, real, and possibly life-altering benefit to someone with a disability, and that’s just amazing.

My only gripe is that, as the author notes, the images have to be uploaded to the service in order to be analysed. Cynical as I tend to be, this was probably the intent of OpenAI’s executives. A ton of blind people and other people with vision issues will be uploading a lot of private data to be sucked up into the Open AI database, for further “AI” training.

But that’s easy for me to say, and I think blind people and other people with vision issues will argue that’s a sacrifice they’re totally comfortable making, considering that they’re getting in return.


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