Microsoft commits $25 million to new AI for Accessibility program

Microsoft is going all in on AI, and that's as evident as ever at this year's Build developer conference. Now, much as it did with its AI for Earth program in 2017, Microsoft is looking to use AI to tackle another area: Accessibility

Today, Microsoft committed $25 million to AI for Accessibility, a new five-year program to tap into AI as a way to help more than one billion people with disabilities around the world.

"Around the world, only one in 10 people with disabilities has access to assistive technologies and products," Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in a blog post today. "By making AI solutions more widely available, we believe technology can have a broad impact."

The AI for Accessibility program will see Microsoft seeding grants to developers and organizations for using an "AI-first approach" to building tools that help people with disabilities in their work, life, and making connections. Projects that Microsoft sees as showing the most promise will receive larger technology investments and assistance from Microsoft AI experts to help the solutions scale.

Finally, Microsoft plans to use AI for Accessibility as a way to help partners build AI into platform-level services and "maximize the accessibility of their offerings."

Microsoft says it is basing the AI for Accessibility program off of the success of AI for Earth. After launching last summer with a $2 million investment, Microsoft pledged another $50 million to AI for Earth in December, with the hope that the increased investment can help tackle pressing environmental issues around the globe.

AI for Earth and AI for Accessibility are part of a larger push by Microsoft, and the tech industry as a whole, to use AI to solve some of the world's most pressing problems. Microsoft, specifically, has made its intentions known: it wants to "democratize AI".