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Microsoft unblocking AI to help persons with disabilities

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New Delhi, Dec 3: As over one billion people — roughly 15 per cent of the world’s population — grapple with some form of disability, Microsoft has begun unblocking the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve assistive technologies in several ways, the company’s India President Anant Maheshwari said on Monday.

Maheshwari, who had a life-altering learning experience in 2008 when he was afflicted with a severe case of labyrinthitis and vertigo, said nearly 200 million people experience significant difficulties in functioning globally.

“Leaving behind a billion people is contrary to our mission of empowering every person on the planet to achieve more. Inclusion is at the heart of everything we create at Microsoft,” Maheshwari said in a blog post on the occasion of UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

“Take the Seeing AI app, which turns the visual world into an audible experience,” he added.

Leveraging AI capabilities in computer vision for the blind and the low-vision community, the Microsoft app uses Optical character recognition (OCR) to read text, scans barcodes and recognises faces, emotions and objects to describe the world.

Microsoft Translator is another example where people who are deaf or hard of hearing derive immense value from the transcriptions and real-time captioning as well.

“Accessibility checker in Office helps one to ensure all content is accessible to all, with the use of alternative text for images or videos. Whether at work, or at home, the Windows 10 cloud-based platform provides built-in assistive technology that’s on the move,” said Maheshwari.

For people who are hard of hearing or need help focusing, Windows allows to quiet visual distractions, highlight content in Edge and customize visual alerts.

With Narrator, Speech Recognition and Skype Translator, people with vision loss or limited mobility can easily surf the web, collaborate and communicate real time.

Microsoft “AI for Accessibility” is a new, $25 million, five-year programme from Microsoft for developers globally, including in India.

The programme will put AI tools in the hands of developers to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions for people with disabilities.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s first-ever Chief Accessibility Officer whose deafness set in at a young age, has a mammoth goal ahead — to utilise AI tools for accessibility and inclusion.

“Accessibility is all about making anything and everything accessible to everyone. We have several programmes for the disabled, like ‘Seeing AI’ and auto alt-text features that are helping narrate the world for people who are blind or have low vision,” Jenny recently told a group of visiting journalists at the company’s Redmond headquarters.

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Markets open on positive note

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Mumbai, Feb 20: The 30-scrip Sensitive Index (Sensex) on Wednesday opened on a positive note during the morning session of the trade.

The BSE Sensex opened at 35,564.93 before touching a high of 35,581.14 and a low of 35,520.21.

It was trading at 35,528.69 up by 176.08 points or 0.50 per cent from its Tuesday’s close at 35,352.61.

On the other hand, the broader 50-scrip Nifty at the National Stock Exchange (NSE) opened at 10,655.45 after closing at 10,604.35.

The Nifty is trading at 10,656.25 in the morning.

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PF funds’ investment in IL&FS bonds have no government guarantee: Finance Ministry

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New Delhi, Feb 19 (IANS) The provident and pension fund trusts that invested in the IL&FS bonds now fear loss of money as the debt-ridden company’s bonds are unsecured debt, and the Finance Ministry says superannuated bonds do not carry any government guarantee and all such instruments have to face all market-related risks.

“Since these are investments in bonds, the government does not ensure any guarantee on them as such and if these are invested in stock markets, they carry the market risks as applicable. It is between the bond issuer and bond holders…,” the Finance Ministry said in response to IANS queries.

Thousands of crores of money of more than 15 lakh employees of both public and private sector companies have exposure to IL&FS bonds.

However, queries sent to the EPFO Commissioner and Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar remained unanswered.

Over 50 funds that manage retirement benefits of over 15 lakh employees have exposure to IL&FS. PF trusts of state electricity boards, public sector undertakings (PSUs) and banks are among them. The provident and pension fund trusts have filed intervening applications in the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) stating that they stand to lose all the money since the bonds are under unsecured debt.

Usually, retirement funds have a low-risk appetite and invest in “AAA” rated bonds (which IL&FS bonds used to be once upon a time) and get assured returns with low interest rates.

The worries of pension and provident fund trusts come from the classification of IL&FS profiling its companies as to which can meet the dues obligations. Many important trust managing funds of PSUs like MMTC, IOC, Hudco, SBI and IDBI are among those filing petitions. From private sector, HUL and Asian Paints are among the petitioners.

IL&FS is currently under resolution process at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). The process will decide under Section 53 of the IBC the order of priority for distribution of proceeds of the process.

The beleaguered company has informed the NCLT that of the 302 entities in the group, 169 are Indian companies, out of which only 22 are emerging as those which can meet all obligations (green), while 10 firms can pay to only secured creditors (Amber). There are 38 companies of IL&FS (red) which cannot meet any obligations of payment, and 120 entities are still being assessed.

These PF and provident funds trusts are worried that if payment is limited to secured creditors, then only financial creditors like banks will receive the dues while unsecured bond-holders will be get any payments.

IL&FS bonds attracted investments by PF trusts as it had the shareholding of SBI and LIC giving its bonds the comfort factor.

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Sachin Bansal invests Rs 650 crore in Ola

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Bengaluru, Feb 19 (IANS) Internet entrepreneur and Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal has invested Rs 650 crore, or about $92 million, in ride-hailing platform Ola in his personal capacity as investor, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

This investment is part of Ola’s larger Series J funding round. It is also the largest investment by an individual in Ola to date, it said.

“Ola is one of India’s most promising consumer businesses that is creating deep impact and lasting value for the ecosystem. On one hand, they have emerged as a global force in the mobility space and on the other, they continue to build deeper for various needs of a billion Indians through their platform, becoming a trusted household name today,” Bansal said.

He further said he has known Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal as entrepreneur and friend over the years and that he has great respect for what he and the team at Ola have built in 8 years.

“We are extremely thrilled to have Sachin onboard Ola as an investor. Sachin is an icon of entrepreneurship and his experience of building one of India’s most respected businesses ground up, is unparalleled,” Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal said.

Ola integrates city transportation for customers and drivers onto a mobile technology platform ensuring convenient, transparent, safe and quick service fulfilment, the statement added.

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