Enabling marginalized communities using AI

Panelists from companies working with aging and disabled populations discussed the role artificial intelligence plays in technologies made for these communities. (Photo by Lexi Peery / BU News Service)

By Lexi Perry
BU News Service

At CES 2019 — a conference showing off the latest and greatest in technology to thousands — one Monday morning panel explored how artificial intelligence is being used to assist disabled and aging communities. Leaders from companies that are focused on these communities discussed how to best serve them using technology.

The panel moderator, Stephen Ewell of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, said there’s a growing market for accessible technology. And it’s not just about offering health services, the executive director said. Artificial intelligence can help people experience more.

Betsy Beaumon, the CEO of Benetech — a nonprofit offering software to disabled communities — said artificial intelligence can, for example, fill some needs librarians used to address for aging communities or those with sight impairments. Instead of relying on librarians, or others, to tell them about new sources of entertainment, people with disabilities can turn to artificial intelligence.

The issue of privacy and confidentiality quickly came up during the discussion. Companies like those represented on the panel — which included Benetech, AARP, and CarePredict — have access to a lot of personal information. Beaumon said she thinks about what she really needs to know about individuals, and what really matters to be stored.

“Don’t collect information if it’s not going to make a difference,” Beaumon said.

When it comes to engaging with these often marginalized communities, according to Ewell, it comes down to really listening and working with people that will be affected by the technologies.

“Be active in considering people you’re trying to serve,” Ewell said.

Mary Bellard, senior accessibility architect at Microsoft echoed Ewell’s sentiments. Bellard said it’s important when companies are doing market research, to include — and pay — those that are being researched. Additionally, Bellard said it’s crucial to work with local nonprofits to understand and interact with aging and disabled populations.

“Don’t overlook local communities to connect with,” Bellard said.

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