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Sam Sepah on The AI Revolution You Haven’t Heard About

Sam Sepah on The AI Revolution You Haven’t Heard AboutPhoto from Unsplash

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Sam Sepah on The AI Revolution You Haven’t Heard About

Sam Sepah At twenty months old, my world suddenly fell into silence. One day, I was a chattering child pointing at TV shows. Immediately after I returned home from the hospital, I was unaware that the vibrant world of sound abruptly stopped. The moment the reality of my deafness hit me was when I was sitting in front of our old TV, turning the volume all the way up, trying in vain to understand the silent figures on the screen. Meningitis, a cruel and silent thief, had robbed me of my hearing by leaving me in a world I no longer understood. While I, as a confused toddler, was watching TV silently, the tears welling up in my parents’ eye witnessing my silent struggle were devastating. How do you explain to a child that the world will forever be silent? How do you navigate raising a deaf child in a hearing world? In that moment, a new chapter of my life began, where I would discover a new language and a new community. Little did I know that the future held the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) tools that would further enrich my connection to the world better and closer, which also would fulfill my parents’ deepest dreams.

Before AI unlocked a new era of data, having access to the world’s information is the most valuable currency, a treasure sought after since the dawn of humankind. My parents, both highly educated, yearned not only for me to have a normal hearing again but to thrive as a happy, successful, and independent individual – like everyone else. To achieve this, they recognized the vital importance of communication to access the world’s wealth of knowledge that awaited them. This, they believed, was the path to a fulfilling life.

As I grew up as a Deaf person, my parents instilled in me a profound understanding: Deaf people can do anything but hear, and sign language was not only our natural – and effective language, but also the key to unlocking the boundless universe of knowledge that lay beyond my hands. They nurtured in me a thirst for information, empowering me to navigate the world as an informed and independent thinker, unburdened by the constraints of my auditory limitations.

Yet, despite their efforts, society failed to meet me halfway. The unwillingness of the world, it seemed, was not yet ready to accommodate the way I connected with information and with others. Moreover, voice-based technologies, designed to connect us, can leave me feeling further away when my untrained voice goes unrecognized and it’s a gentle reminder of the barriers that still remain. This experience is not just my story; it represents the reality for over a billion individuals with disabilities in our modern society who face similar challenges in accessing information and fully participating in the world around them.

In this AI internet-powered age, retrieving the resources through connecting other people is our great equalizer. It tears down the stone walls that once confined us to limited circles, giving everyone, everywhere, the chance to rise above their circumstances and reach their full potential. Thus, our community needs a tool that empowers, not judges.

While the hearing world naturally embraces technological advancements to enhance efficiency, streamline communication, and amplify their voices, the focus has often been on advancing their existing abilities. However, the tides are turning. The emergence of AI-powered accessibility tools is not only revolutionizing the way we interact with the world but also bridging the gap such as between the hearing and Deaf communities, leveling the playing field of communication. Picture this: A young Deaf girl at a science museum, her eyes alight with wonder, signs a question about a rocket to the tour guide. An AI-powered sign language device seamlessly translates her question into a clear voice, just as voice-to-text speech recognition works for hearing users. Her classmates listen intently, their focus on the fascinating question, not on her difference. Neither the Deaf girl nor the guide need to change their natural way of communicating; because technology bridges the gap flawlessly so everyone can organically communicate, create and contribute without limitation.

We are entering an exciting new golden age of the accessibility community, as AI technology is becoming a powerful tool for making the world more universally accessible and useful. Imagine a world where technology helps everyone participate fully, regardless of their abilities. This isn’t just a dream anymore; it’s becoming a reality. It is happening now.

This shift towards a more accessible world isn’t just a responsibility of tech companies or policymakers – it’s a citizenship of action for everyone, including you. Each of us plays a role, whether you’re a teacher crafting lesson plans, a restaurateur writing a menu, an engineer designing products, or simply an individual passionate about making a difference. It’s about more than just acknowledging the potential of AI; it’s about actively ensuring that this potential benefits everyone. If you’re working on a project, ask yourself: “Is this accessible to my broader audience? Have you incorporated AI-powered tools like closed captions, audio descriptions, and image descriptions? Do they have proper assistive tools to work with us? Have you sought feedback from users with various abilities to ensure that your creation truly serves their needs?” By taking these steps, we can collectively build a future where technology accepts and empowers everyone, regardless of who they are.

Like everyone else, AI-powered tools are becoming our personal companions, guiding us through a world of knowledge tailored to our unique needs and interests. They serve as our interpreters, breaking down language barriers and fostering understanding between cultures and individuals. By embracing technologies like automatic speech recognition and sign language translation, we unlock a future where everyone, regardless of ability, can thrive with confidence and independence. Most importantly, these advancements grant us all an equal right to participate fully in society, making the dreams of countless parents a reality.

About Sam Sepah:

Sam Sepah currently resides in Pleasanton, CA as a Google Research AI Lead Accessibility Program Manager specializing in Accessibility Technologies (both AI and non-AI) with Sign Language Technologies / Research for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.

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