The University of Southampton

Southampton Turing Fellow signals need for AI design to benefit disabled people

Published: 10 December 2020
Professor Mike Wald

Professor Mike Wald from the University of Southampton has highlighted the urgent need for artificial intelligence to be designed and deployed in a manner that doesn't increase societal inequalities.

Speaking at a Couch Lesson of the international Goethe-Institut, the Turing Fellow insisted that proactive consideration is required for algorithmic systems to be designed in a manner that is fair, transparent and ethical.

He warned that these considerations for AI and inclusion were particularly vital when considering those with disabilities, otherwise an emerging 'AI divide' could compromise the equal treatment of people.

Professor Wald, of the Web and Internet Science Research Group, says: "Of the nine protected characteristics identified by the Equality Act 2010, disability is the least homogeneous and so techniques need to be developed to ensure algorithms work fairly for these edge 'cases' and 'outliers' by including disabled people at all stages.

"The design and deployment of AI to benefit disabled people will also help provide digital accessibility and inclusion for all members of society."

The Goethe-Institut event, which was held online this Wednesday, invited Professor Wald and Nnenna Nwakanma of the World Wide Web Foundation to discuss the opportunities and challenges of enabling equal access to AI technologies. The session was part of the Generation A=Algorithm project supported by the European AI Alliance.

Professor Wald's project with The Alan Turing Institute has explored the way AI has been used to automate web accessibility checkers to support those with disabilities. The project team has also worked closely with local assistive technology and service providers to conduct research into a decision support system related to workplace assessments for disabled people.

Recent work at Southampton has also led to the development of Synote, an award-winning tool for creating online and paper captions, transcripts and notes from lecture recordings.

Earlier this month, Professor Wald presented on AI and inclusion at an online Space and Astronomy Research Accessibility SARA2020 event hosted by the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC). The workshop brought together expert speakers from around the world to help generate tools, programmes and schemes that can improve the access to data and training for researchers and young professionals with disabilities.

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