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Announcing Sight Tech Global, an event on the future of AI and accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired

Few challenges have excited technologists more than building tools to help people who are blind or visually impaired. It was Silicon Valley legend Ray Kurzweil, for example, who in 1976 launched the first commercially available text-to-speech reading device. He unveiled the $50,000 Kurzweil Reading Machine, a boxy device that covered a tabletop, at a press conference hosted by the National Federation of the Blind
The early work of Kurzweil and many others has rippled across the commerce and technology world in stunning ways. Today’s equivalent of Kurzweil’s machine is Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, which uses AI-based image recognition to “see” and “read” in ways that Kurzweil could only have dreamed of. And it’s free to anyone with a mobile phone. 
Remarkable leaps forward like that are the foundation for Sight Tech Global, a new, virtual event slated for Dec 2-3, that will bring together many of the world’s top technology and accessibility experts to discuss how rapid advances in AI and related technologies will shape assistive technology and accessibility in the years ahead.
The technologies behind Microsoft’s Seeing AI are on the same evolutionary tree as the ones that enable cars to be autonomous and robots to interact safely with humans. Much of our most advanced technology today stems from that early, challenging mission that top Silicon Valley engineers embraced to teach machines to “see” on behalf of humans.
From the standpoint of people who suffer vision loss, the technology available today is astonishing, far beyond what anyone anticipated even ten years ago. Purpose-built products like Seeing AI and computer screen readers like JAWS are remarkable tools. At the same time, consumer products including mobile phones, mapping apps, and smart voice assistants are game changers for everyone, those with sight loss not the least. And yet, that tech bonanza has not come close to breaking down the barriers in the lives of people who still mostly navigate with canes or dogs or sighted assistance, depend on haphazard compliance with accessibility standards to use websites, and can feel as isolated as ever in a room full of people. 


A computer can drive a car at 70 MPH without human assistance but there is not yet any comparable device to help a blind person walk down a sidewalk at 3 MPH.
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