Microsoft’s new iPhone app narrates the world for blind people

 

The app works in a number of scenarios. As well as recognizing people it’s seen before and guessing strangers’ age and emotion, it can identify household products by scanning barcodes. It also reads and scan documents, and recognizes US currency. This last function is a good example of how useful it can be. As all dollar bills are the same size and color regardless of value, spotting the difference can be difficult or even impossible for the visually impaired. An app like Seeing AI helps them find that information.

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How Blind People ‘See’ the iPhone With Their Fingers

 

A few years ago, backstage at a conference, I spotted a blind woman using her phone. The phone was speaking everything her finger touched on the screen, allowing her to tear through her apps. My jaw hit the floor. After years of practice, she had cranked the voice’s speed so high, I couldn’t understand a word it was saying. And here’s the kicker: She could do all of this with the screen turned off. Her phone’s battery lasted forever. Ever since that day, I’ve been like a kid at a magic show. I’ve wanted to know how it’s done. I’ve wanted an inside look at how the blind could navigate a phone that’s basically a slab of featureless glass.

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Conversation in the Post-iPhone World

I have seen this resilience during my own research at a device-free summer camp. At a nightly cabin chat, a group of 14-year-old boys spoke about a recent three-day wilderness hike. Not that many years ago, the most exciting aspect of that hike might have been the idea of roughing it or the beauty of unspoiled nature. These days, what made the biggest impression was being phoneless. One boy called it “time where you have nothing to do but think quietly and talk to your friends.” The campers also spoke about their new taste for life away from the online feed. Their embrace of the virtue of disconnection suggests a crucial connection: The capacity for empathic conversation goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude. In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.

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Microsoft is turning the iPhone’s camera into a 3D scanner

Microsoft wants the camera on the back of your phone to do more than take 2D photos. A new project from Microsoft’s research lab is turning the average smartphone’s rear camera into a 3D scanner — one that can automatically create 3D models that are supposed to be good enough for printing. In a demo video, researchers use an iPhone 5S to scan objects just by moving the phone around them. The phone tracks the object that’s being captured and then builds up a model as the camera captures it from different angles.

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