A Facebook team led by a blind engineer may hold the key to one of the most pressing problems on the internet: Screening images and videos for inappropriate content.
“More than 2 billion photos are shared across Facebook every single day,” Facebook engineer Matt King said. “That’s a situation where a machine-based solution adds a lot more value than a human-based solution ever could.”
King’s passion stems in part from his own challenges of being a blind engineer.
He was born with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. As a child King could see fine during the day, but could not see anything at night. Soon that progressed to only being able to read with a bright light, then with a magnification system. He used a closed circuit TV magnification system to finish his degree.
By the time he went to work at IBM as an electrical engineer in 1989, he had lost all his vision. King started volunteering with IBM’s accessibility projects, working on a screen reader to help visually impaired people “see” what is on their screens either through audio cues or a braille device. IBM eventually developed the first screen reader for a graphical interface which worked with its operating system OS/2.
One of the lead researchers noticed King was passionate about the project, so he asked him to switch to the accessibility team full time in 1998. He eventually caught the eye of Facebook, who hired him from IBM in 2015.
“What I was doing was complaining too much,” King said. “I just wanted things to be better.”
King is used to making the world adapt to him. The avid cyclist competed in the Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens Paralympic games, and plays the piano. On the request of his wife and two children, his family remained in Bend, Oregon after Facebook hired him. To get to Facebook’s Menlo Park office, King hitches a ride with friend with a pilot’s license who works at Google.