Scott’s Accessibility

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Global Accessibility Awareness Day

On Thursday 19 May it was Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and as a result we see lots of news in the space. The one that caught my eye the most was a United Nations report that looked at the benefits and barriers of artificial intelligence, and thought it may be of interest.

Published by Gerard Quinn, it noted AI’s future fundamental importance in terms of human existence.  In particular, the benefits for employment, education, and independence are seen as far greater for those with a disability.  Mr Quinn said, “However, there are many well-known discriminatory impacts.”  He also pointed out that unless AI has been created with accessibility already a feature, those who are currently left behind, have little chance of catching up. 

When I think of AI, I often think of classic sci-fi with intelligent computers or futuristic robots, but in the modern context it can be more hidden, like how our Google Assistant makes sense of our speech, then works out what commands to do. Some parts of computing uses AI to create even more complex AI so its likely to be even more pervasive  than we think.

The relevance for seniors with disability is that there’s a risk AI may make decisions that should not be made: if 20 candidates apply to join a group that only has 10 spots available,  could AI remove us from opportunities because of our age? Physical strength? Perceived inferiority due to having a disability?  We’ve seen AI go awry when Microsoft had a Twitter chatbot based on topical discussions and it gained a racist potty mouth very quickly as the programmers didn’t consider that possibility.

Likewise the report makes the point that we don’t want to lose sight of the human element and that people with disability need to be in the mix in setting the rules fo how AI works so these mistakes aren’t made. Some compelling food for thought and great to see the UN discussing the digital access issues of today and tomorrow.