Early efforts at cognitive assistance are focused on developing technology to allow Asakawa to move around by herself, aided by smartphone navigation in both indoor and outdoor environments. With a prototype video analysis technology under development by CMU, Asakawa’s smartphone tells her who is approaching, and in what mood, to help her engage socially. "Computers need to have an ability to process this data and make sense of it to better support people, to help them live and work more successfully,” says Asakawa. “Technologies have helped me make some dreams come true – reading textbooks, surfing the net by myself. Cognitive assistant technology is the next big thing for me to make more dreams come true – to enjoy window shopping while walking along a street by myself and traveling by myself."
People with disabilities probably won’t be the only ones to benefit. “History shows us that the needs of a limited population hold potential for new innovations,” says Asakawa. “The telephone and the keyboard, for example, are said to be inspired by impairments. Imagine if you are in a foreign country with no knowledge of the local language. Having a cognitive assistant may become handy for you to find good restaurants or places that you want to go, or to catch important information like signs. Such an assistant may be able to tell you where you put your car keys, or that you are about to forget to buy a carton of milk at a grocery store.”
There are many challenges to be overcome to achieve real world accessibility, but Asakawa is optimistic because she believes in power of the people. "Collaboration is such a powerful thing that we can make the impossible possible."
In that spirit, Asakawa and Carnegie Mellon are working with communities around the world, open-sourcing fundamental technologies for researchers and developers with a hope of accelerating the effort through collaboration. To learn more about the initiative or how you can contribute, follow the project on Facebook.