The opening Keynote Address: “The New Chapter for AI” presented by: Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the Chief Accessibility Officer of Microsoft.
AXEL LEBLOIS: So we have several keynotes as was mentioned earlier, but to dive into the topic this morning, and get started, I would like to introduce our first keynote speaker who will be Jenny LayFlurrie this morning, Chief Accessibility Officer of Microsoft addressing the topic on the new chapter for AI.
As Chief Accessibility Officer of Microsoft, Jenny has championed inclusion, equity and views, accessibility as a fundamental right. Very close to our own views of the world at G3ict and IAAP. She joined Microsoft in 2005 and initially was watching Hotmail and Bing.
Jenny, I still have my Hotmail account. Be proud of it. And initially was passionate about accessibility, helped create the Disability Employment Resource Group at Microsoft which I have been there a few times, it is an extraordinary organization within Microsoft Corporation, and ultimately, she became Chief Accessibility Officer of Microsoft.
I think it is fair to say that Jenny led a comprehensive report to accessibility at Microsoft and since 2016, that's seven years, she's been driving accountability across the company and raising awareness to the disability inclusive culture going from processes to physical accessibility to inclusive hiring. Jenny is the ultimate corporate advocate for accessibility that we are working with.
Please welcome help me welcome Jenny LayFlurrie to the podium for her keynote.
JEN LAY-FLURRIE: Thank you, Axel. Good morning, good afternoon, hello, folks! Who has a Hotmail address! Let's get it out of the way! I'm asking the room, there is maybe 30% of the hands going up! Me too!
It is an incredible honor to be with you today. I'm Jenny LayFlurrie. I'm here to talk about the future and artificial intelligence.
Before I go there, let me say that well, I have a bit of imposter syndrome. It is intimidating being in front of all of my peers, and I think my 10yearold self would be a little bit confused. My golden life was to be a professional clarinetist, that was option 1; option 2, it was to be a music therapist. When I realized after music school I wasn't anywhere good enough to be a musician and I didn't have strong enough of a heart to work in palliative music therapy, I went with option 3, which was getting a job that would pay the rent.
Option 3 led me to did not the Daily Mirror, working on the help desk. It wasn't exactly the career that my music professors thought I would go into, but at week end, they said hey, are you having fun? I said yeah, this is really good problems to be solved.
Over the years, I think we have reached the most ultimate problem of all: How do we deliver on the promise of accessibility as a fundamental, right? My journey from the late '90s I'm that old folks has been quite fascinating and going through lots of these different waves of technology Y2K, if anyone remembers Y2K, anyone? Please, thank you! I feel so much better!
You go and see how do you realize the potential of broadband, the launch of Xbox, the launch of Hotmail, this little thing called Bing which pulled me from London, U.K. that's a British accent to Seattle where it is still raining as I left and back in 2006.
It landed me into what I think is the biggest problem of all as we navigate the industry shifts, it is how do we realize the full inclusion of the 1.3 billion people which is the latest number from the World Health Organization in December of 2022. I was sitting there this weekend thinking about this, knowing I would be completely intimidated coming up here. I was doing I was in my happy place, back in Seattle, and I was baking.
I have got four kids, me, my husband, and the youngest is 16, so my house is always full of teenagers and they seemingly are always hungry. I bake a lot. As soon as I bake something, they eat it, then they demand more. They also talk to me, which I think is a gift for any parent. Eventually with solving all manners of things in conversation my goodness, teenagers, then they ask the question: When are you going to be done with this accessibility thing? Anyone else have that question? When are you going to fix it?
Now, my flippant answer is by Tuesday. My more logical answer knowing that I have, you know, a 15yearold at the table, was to ask him to look behind him. Behind him was it his set of stairs. Now, I asked him to think do you think I'll fix it by Tuesday? Because these things are everywhere. He goes oh! That's really good. He ran off. Xbox was calling his name. This is a problem of our time. The world is not built for disabled people. I'm proudly deaf and disabled. It wasn't built for me. It was built with the inclusion of stairs.
Now, if we look at this from the physical angle, we look at what we can do to empower more accessible world in the physical space, I have to call the easiest example, which is go to my home state, back to Washington, and actually my office which is Red West A. I took a little picture of my entrance to my building, about a month ago, the sun is still shining. What you can see on this page, it is just a very simple explanation of how this space is built to be inclusive by design. That little video didn't work.
I'll try it one more time.
In the middle is an image, this little video, at work, it shows how when you walk to the entrance of our building, one of our 330 buildings around the world, what you're able to do is navigate using tactile strips in the concrete, there is braille maps, there is braille and tactile and low vision signage on every single fridge. In fact, all of the cans are put in the same place in the fridge in every building. Simple things we have done to make sure that our buildings are not only accessible, but we have gone beyond to make them inclusive. It is a framework that has enabled us to take this inaccessible world and help to make it more accessible.
Not just hitting the bare minimum, but going beyond to empower People with Disabilities. I tell you, that disability ERG that Axel mentioned, my proudest moment was being a part of the creation of that, a mobility team, blind crew, in fact the 23 different communities that Microsoft helped to inform the design of every single one of our buildings.
So what's that mean for the digital world? In the digital world, Microsoft is one company of many in this room. We don't have 300 buildings in the digital world. My inventory is over 6,000. 6,000 products, apps, websites, services. We have to make sure we have exactly the same process with. We're building, showing that we're including all of the minimum bar, but then going far beyond. Now, it is not a perfect science. In fact, I do not believe that accessibility is about perfection. It is about building a framework that scales.
Over the last seven to eight year, my predecessor Rob, who is in the room before me, we set out about building that structure that would scale. How do we do it? We do it through a lot of people in fact, thousands. So I have my amazing gang of humans, some in the room here today. Far more important than them you are important, sorry, it is not that important! I'll be in trouble later! it is how we work across the company, and how we work with many of you to pull in your expertise.
Most important is our disability answer desks, our support channel. How I kind of slid into this gig, is that is our support channel, we take 13,000 calls a month from disabled customers and employees. It is a circular process that pulls in that expertise, gets it right to the people, we follow the bugs and get them resolved. It allowed us to scale from an inventory of a few hundred in the digital world to over 6,000. If you ask me what is the one single most important aspect to this, that's enabled us to leap, it is training. You're all like really! Yes. I mean it.
I made it mandatory with the help of many great folks, mandatory for every Microsoft employee to take accessibility training. They really liked me for a while! Everybody loves mandatory training, don't you? We love that! But it raised the collective wealth. It meant that I wasn't having to walk in the room as a deaf person and explain what I needed. They didn't speak to my interpreter, they spoke to me. When I said turn on the caption, there were no eyebrows, it was it raised that collective wealth and it meant that we could accelerate, and we're now proud to have over 1.7 million having taken that training.
You think that's good! (Chuckle).
Fun, right? I thought it was going all ticketyboo, Xbox accessible controller, a really cool mouse, we have so many cool things that came out of this model. Then the holiday happened and I started getting calls from my friends at Bing. This thing called GPT thing happened. Anyone see this in the news? A couple of you? It was everywhere. I tell you, my holiday was a mixture of baking and fielding calls from Bing. How do we make sure that GPT is accessible? Good question! Let's figure this one out.
Like all of the single technological revolution that's happened before it, it takes energy, time, thinking, and the first thing to do is to wallow into what this is.
AI ain't new, folks. If you go back, search through GPT, it will give you a history of AI I found yesterday I was on the plane AI, artificial intelligence, dates back to the 1950s. You will find that every single company here, in fact, many of you, are using AI in your every day life.
I was test driving a car the other day, and it was stopping the car, filming. That's rude by the way, don't do that! It is artificial intelligence. AI is embedded into our lives and what is new this year is generative AI, generating content on the back of foundational models which is the new term for many have calling large language models. It is consuming an utter, incredible amount of data to generate content for you.
Now, what's this mean for us? I tell you, what we had to do very quickly, put out our principles of how we were going to tackle this if we had any chance of being ahead of the curve. We all know that to build something inclusively, accessibly, you have to embed it right from the start. We cannot start this gig two years from now and try to retrofit, we know what that will take. We had to launch three key principles leaning on all of our wealth to make sure that all of our designers internally were building inclusively. It is not rocket science.
The first, it is be accessible. Very complicated, which basically was my call to every single person at Microsoft to let them know that the bar hasn't shifted. If you're going to build a new piece of code, it must still deliver on our standards.
The second two were slightly different. The second one, it is to make sure that we're inclusive of disability representative data. If you don't have data that represents your community, you are not going to build an accessible or inclusive data model.
The last was to innovate, all of this being grounded to pull in the insights of People with Disabilities and the community and to tackle some of the historical problems we know exists with artificial intelligence, which is that there is a lack of disability data.
So what are we learning through this? How can AI help? There are five quick examples I want to show you that illuminates the possibilities and also the potential risk as we lean into bluntly this moment right now.
The first, it is productivity. There are two simple little gifts on the page that really illustrate this. I will give you one other example. One of the beautiful things about generative AI is that it will put all of that data in and help you to syntheses something very quickly.
I have the dyslexia Wikipedia page here. I'm asking it to go down to a couple of bullets for me. It does it real fast. We loaded a ton of data on accessibility into those models so that ageold question which I know you are all getting asked, is what is the R and Y to accessibility in your company? It is a trap! Don't answer it! Putting that on the page, but I'll tell you the biggest one I'm finding is I love transcripts. I use them every day. I use transcripts and captioning. What those are now doing, at the end of my meeting, it is scraping that transcript and generating me meeting notes. By the way, that was built on the back of accessibility. Pretty cool, right.
Number two, ableism.
What do I mean by ableism? That we have some options to really advance the understanding ever disability or we could propagate biases that exist in society as it stands today. I have two examples for you that I will straight the possibilities, this is through my favorite search engine sorry Google Bing. I love Bing, I was part of the building team for it. We have been able to get some data right now in Bing if you're planning a vacation. Simple, right? We all know how hard it can be to plan a vacation if you're a wheelchair user and getting real, tangible information. So if you put a prompt in there, you get out real information that you could use to plan a vacation. Take that same principle where you have got loaded data in there that's useful, valuable, doesn't see disability as something negative, busies it as part of being the human experience, which is what it is, and take it to the next level of what could be possible and the age old of telling a disability joke. If you put into any search engine today tell me a joke about disability, what will be the answer you get? Some ridiculous ableist joke. That shouldn't be et cetera case. How about we're able to use GenAI instead to educate people that that ain't cool, folks. Let's not do that. We have the chance to impact ableism in a profound way.
Number three, employment. Employment as we know, the numbers have gotten better this year, but the gap is still prevalent. It burns mow when I look at those stats, and I'm a data nerd, I love statistics. Is how can we lean into AI to potentially change that moment? There are possibilities with GenAI to not screen out but to screen in, and the best example here is Mentra. And Jhillika Kumar is here, I won't steal her thunder but she will give you examples of really talking to how.
The fourth, independence. I have to pause here a second and celebrate the work of Be My Eyes. Who is using Be My Eyes? All right! You don't get extra points for waving both hands. Nice try! That was maybe 20% of the room. All of you now need to take an action to download Be My Eyes on your devices and become a volunteer, one of 600,000 volunteers at Be My Eyes that they have that help blind and low vision people to use and to see the world.
Now, the one thing we have been doing, 2017, we have plugged that into the disability answer desk. When a blind or low vision customer calls us, they can call us using Be My Eyes, they can take a picture of the environment that they have, that could be a cable they're trying to connect, a screen that never happens on windows, an error screen, they work with the disability desk to get that solved. Imagine instead of having to take a picture, you are instead using Be My Eyes, be my AI, you're using this through AI to take a picture of the environment before you ever have to hit a human. This is an excel spreadsheet, taking a picture and they're trying to figure out a table, a simple, simple, simple explanation, and Be My Eyes is guiding them on how to build the right formula to add the result of that spreadsheet. Here is the kicker, we have had this in pilot, 90% of those that use be my AI don't have to wait to speak to a human. It means that person is able to solve their query quicker and faster rather than waiting on the call line for someone to pick up the phone. Independence.
Lastly, the biggest one in many ways of all for all of us, accessibility nerds, it is how do we beamed AI to design, build and test.
I could spend an hour talking, I won't. Because you all will kick me off! But, this is the one that of everything I'm the most excited about. Why? Because it is not okay that testing tools can only illuminate 40% of queries today. We need to be more efficient if we are to move with this modern age and ultimately we all know the biggest, biggest thing that we have to get our arms around is building accessible code right from building it.
You didn't have to clap at that!
So what's this mean? What's it mean to us? There is a brilliant report written by Henry Clay Paul that I was reading on the plane yesterday, and I thought it beautiful summarized the ask for us all as we lean into this moment. It's five examples of 50, it is also five examples of 100 where we could get this wrong. How we lean into this moment, how we work together, how we build the better datasets and gage for the disability community. We have do this in a thoughtful, inclusive and participatory which is a really difficult word for a deaf girl to end on. It is crucial that we lean into this trend and this moment. So I am honestly honored to be here and to work with all of you to hopefully be able to turn around to that teenager in a year and say you know what, we fixed it, maybe a little bit. Thank you!