Big Tech Focuses on Assistive AI

AI, Assistive AI, government assistance, disability

As Big Tech investigates assistive AI, there’s hope that they acknowledge the financial difficulty that the people who would need it face.

  • Despite being on government assistance, many struggle to make ends meet.
  • Adding AI to already somewhat expensive software may hike its price, making it inaccessible to its target audience.

Big Tech is delving more into technology and disabilities, providing people with disabilities with assistive AI, which might hopefully be affordable.

Based on their condition, people with disabilities may not be able to get a well-paying job. They are, in turn, left to rely on government assistance, like the U.S.’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and the U.K.’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The Reality

However, some of these programs have requirements that are difficult to meet. These requirements keep people with disabilities, who can only rely on government assistance, in relative poverty. For example, many of the programs are means-tested, meaning people cannot benefit from them unless they make or belong to a household that makes them below a certain threshold. So, if your spouse makes more, you can’t receive a disability, forcing you to be dependent on your spouse.

Many disabilities also require expensive tools, including wheelchairs, prosthetics, hearing aids, and many more. A basic below-the-knee prosthetic, for example, can run you anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000. So, you can imagine how financially difficult it is for an individual living off disability to also afford appropriate care.

Assistive AI

The cost of assistive technologies varies greatly. There are low-tech ones that can cost less than $100, like jar openers and reach grabbers. And there are ones that are in the moderate- to high-cost category, like speech recognition software. While basic software costs somewhere between $5 and $80, advanced and custom ones could go up to $33,558.

Tech companies are investing in adding AI to assistive technologies. To quote Eve Andersson, Google’s senior director of product inclusion, equity, and accessibility, who spoke with CNN, these companies “don’t want to leave people behind”

Bringing assistive AI to the visually impaired, OpenAI has partnered with Be My Eyes to bring AI models to the platform. Be My Eyes connects visually impaired people with volunteers to help with tasks like color coordination or expiration date check. The plan is for the assistive AI to replace the volunteers, giving people with visual impairments more independence.

Beyond that, major tech companies, like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, among others, have recruited researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to create a training dataset for AI speech recognition tools. The Speech Accessibility Project aims to ensure that the assistive AI dataset includes a diversity of speech patterns.

The researchers are collecting recordings that feature volunteers with speech impediments caused by various conditions, including Parkinsons, Down Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and other disabilities.

However, will the addition of AI to assistive technologies lower the cost or make it even more inaccessible?

Final Thoughts

The economic crisis is hitting everyone. However, it is especially difficult for people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. Some struggle to afford the assistive technologies that they need to lead a good life. So, tech companies need to take into consideration how the pricing for their assistive AI will affect their target demographic.

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