How quickly transformative technology takes hold! Until this year, few people other than artificial intelligence experts and students knew about generative AI language models. Then, ChatGPT-2 became a thing. I first heard about ChatGPT last November from a pediatrician and data scientist in Turkey. He used ChatGPT-3.5 to create Python code to extract data from electronic medical records for a retrospective clinical study. Since then, I’ve discussed generative language models with an ophthalmologist from Taiwan, an attorney in Bejing who works for a pharmaceutical company, a biomedical software engineer in Italy, an oncologist in China who works in clinical trials, and professionals in various other technical and professional fields in several countries.

On March 14, 2023, Denmark-based Be My Eyes announced Virtual Volunteer, a new digital virtual assistant tool powered by ChatGPT-4, the latest edition of the now conversationally-ubiquitous language model. Be My Eyes is a global community that puts people with vision impairment who need assistance in contact with sighted volunteers who offer to help via the app. The current Be my Eyes app runs on iOS and Android mobile devices. Users can access the app in more than 150 countries using more than 180 languages. According to Be My Eyes, the community has connected 6.3 million sighted volunteers to assist people with impaired vision with tasks.

Be My Eyes will integrate the Virtual Volunteer tool into the free Be My Eyes app, starting with an iOS version. The first generative language feature in the ChatGPT-4-powered module is image-to-text conversion, employing conversational levels and nuances that are nonexistent in current image-to-text technologies. Be My Eyes cited a potential response to a photo of refrigerator’s contents as an example of Virtual Volunteer potential. The new Virtual Volunteer feature could accurately recognize the refrigerator contents and suggest recipes using the available ingredients with step-by-step directions for preparing the meal. Be My Eyes plans to expand the generative model’s capabilities for people who are blind or visually impaired and will also present businesses and organizations with a powerful way to improve customer accessibility.

Be My Eyes plans to release a beta iOS version of the Virtual Volunteer-enhanced app to major businesses in the coming weeks. The group also expects to launch the app fully later in 2023. Persons who are blind or have impaired vision can register for the iOS app waitlist now. The Android version will come later.