Kawasaki, Japan:

Japanese eSports gamer Mashiro is blind and often relies on a partner to get around Tokyo — but he hopes artificial intelligence, which is being hailed as a promising tool for people with disabilities, can help him travel alone. It can help.

The 26-year-old “Street Fighter” player tried out the latest version of AI chatbot ChatGPT on his way to the stadium for a recent Para eSports meetup.

“I can’t participate in an event like this without someone to trust,” he told AFP. “Besides, sometimes I just want to walk around by myself without talking to other people.

“So if I can use a technology like ChatGPT to design support for my special needs, that would be great.”

This year, American firm OpenAI released GPT-4o, which understands voice, text and image commands in several languages.

The generative gadget, along with others like Google’s Gemini, is part of a fast-growing field that experts say could make education, employment and everyday services more accessible.

After the mesmerizing smoothness of the streets, Masahiro Fujimoto — who goes by his online handle Mashiro — uses his cane adorned with a small monkey mascot to find his way out of the station.

On the way, he spoke to GPT-4o like a friend, receiving its responses through an earpiece in one ear, leaving the other free to listen to the sounds of vehicles.

After asking for basic instructions, he added: “Actually, I’m blind, so can you tell me more details for blind people?”

“Of course,” replied the bot. “As you get closer, you can feel the noise of the crowd and the sound of activity increase.”

The 20-minute journey for visitors, with several U-turns, took Mashiro four times as long.

When it started raining heavily, he sought help from his friend, who is partially sighted, to finish the journey.

“Arrival!” Finally screamed Mashiro, who has microophthalmos and has been blind since birth, using only sound to knock down his opponents on “Street Fighter 6”.

‘Too much potential’

Young Jun Cho, an associate professor of computer science at University College London (UCL), said AI can better meet specific needs than “one-size-fits-all” assistive products and technologies.

“The potential is enormous,” said Cho, who also works at UCL’s Global Disability Innovation Hub.

“I imagine it can empower many individuals and promote independence.”

Hearing-impaired people, for example, can use AI speech-to-text transcription, while chatbots can help shape a resume for someone with a learning disability.

Some tools for the visually impaired, such as Seeing AI, Envision AI and TapTapSee, interpret phone camera images.

Danish app Be My Eyes, where real-life volunteers help via live chat, is working with OpenAI to develop a “digital visual assistant.”

But Masahide Ishiki, a Japanese expert on disability and digital accessibility, warned that it could be “difficult” to catch errors with ChatGPT, which “responds so naturally”.

“The next goal (for generative AI) is to improve the accuracy of real-time visual recognition, to eventually reach capabilities closer to the human eye,” said Ashiki, who is blind.

Mark Gublot of the Tech for Disability group also warned that AI is trained on “very mainstream datasets” that are “not representative of the full spectrum of people’s perceptions and especially at the margins”.

Mashiro said ChatGPT’s limited recognition of Japanese words and places made traveling with its AI more difficult.

While the experience was “a lot of fun,” it would have been easier if ChatGPT had been linked to a map tool, said Gamer, who traveled to Europe last year using Google Maps and saw people around him. Helped.

He has already decided on his next travel destination: the rainforest island of Yakushima in southern Japan.

“I want to experience everything that happens during such a trip,” he said.

(Other than the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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