Sunday, February 25, 2024

Apples new software features for cognitive, speech, and vision accessibility

Apple has unveiled a range of new accessibility tools for the iPhone and iPad, including a groundbreaking feature that can replicate a user’s voice for phone calls after just 15 minutes of training. The upcoming tool, called Personal Voice, allows users to read text prompts to record audio and teach the technology their voice. This synthesized voice can then be used during phone calls, FaceTime conversations, and in-person interactions through a feature called Live Speech. Additionally, users will have the ability to save commonly used phrases for live conversations. These new features are part of Apple’s commitment to making their devices more inclusive for people with cognitive, vision, hearing, and mobility disabilities. The company acknowledges that individuals with conditions like ALS, which may cause them to lose their voice over time, could benefit greatly from these tools. Apple emphasizes that these features were developed in collaboration with members of disability communities to ensure they meet the diverse needs of users. In addition to the voice replication feature, Apple also announced Assistive Access, which combines popular iOS apps into one Calls app. This interface includes high-contrast buttons, large text labels, an emoji-only keyboard option, and the ability to record video messages for those who prefer visual or audio communication. The Magnifier app for the visually impaired is also being updated to include a detection mode that helps users interact with physical objects more effectively. Apple assures users that the Personal Voice feature uses on-device machine learning to keep their information private and secure. While these tools offer significant benefits, they come at a time when concerns about deepfakes, convincing fake audio and video, have raised alarms. Apple’s commitment to privacy and security is evident in their approach to these features. It’s worth noting that other tech companies have also explored using artificial intelligence to replicate voices, with Amazon working on a feature that would allow its Alexa system to mimic any voice, even that of a deceased family member. However, Apple’s Personal Voice feature is set to be released later this year, along with the other accessibility tools, further solidifying the company’s dedication to accessibility and inclusivity.

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