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Microsoft has a new app that tells the visually impaired what's in front of them

  • The app was previously only available on a type of smart glasses.
  • Microsoft is also starting to come up with AI design guidelines.

Microsoft is putting its artificial intelligence technology to work to help the visually impaired.

The company said on Wednesday that it's releasing an iOS app called Seeing AI that uses an iPhone's camera to tell people about objects in front of them. The app shows off Microsoft's current capabilities in AI, while also addressing a group that the technology industry too often ignores.

Microsoft first revealed the technology to an audience of developers last year, but at the time it was only shown as working on smart glasses. Now anyone with an iPhone or iPad can try it.

Microsoft isn't saying whether Seeing AI will become available on Android. Still, its arrival on iOS is the latest example of Microsoft, under CEO Satya Nadella, embracing third-party platforms.

For example, Microsoft brought its SQL Server database software to Linux, and it has ported Office apps to the iPad. Most recently it added support for Apple's MacBook Pro Touch Bar in Office apps.

Microsoft also said it will be developing a set of design guidelines for AI-infused features in products to ensure a greater degree of transparency and to emphasize ethics. The announcement comes two days after Google introduced a new research initiative around improving the design of its own AI systems for users, professionals and researchers.

Additionally, Microsoft is rejiggering staffers within the artificial intelligence and research group that it formed in September. Under the leadership of Eric Horvitz, the new Microsoft Research AI program is designed to bring together around 100 people who specialize in different technologies categorized under AI, instead of having them spread out in Microsoft AI and Research, which includes around 6,000 people, a Microsoft spokesman said.