Blind Bargains

BBQ Be My AI 225: Placeholder Title Needs Update

Things like grammar and sentence structure are hard. That's why we do more talking than writing on this site. Except, for a considerable time, we haven't been doing a lot of that either. Well, that changes today as we replaced the batteries, dust off the cobwebs and have knocked off some of the krust with an all new BBQ episode featuring an interview from CSUNATC24!

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CSUNATC24 Interview: Mike Buckley CEO of Be My Eyes

BE My Eyes may now be a service with a worldwide reach, however for the BBQ Crew, it holds a special place in our audio hearts as the service was our featured interview in our official first episode back in January 2015. Since that time the service has gone on to be used by millions and JJ sat down with Mike Buckley, CEO of Be My Eyes, to talk about several subjects regarding the three services the company offers. Listen to the pair discuss how Be My AI has grown over the last year to become a Visual Interpretation tool for reading menus, describing objects and even a bird finder. The conversation gives some insight into the Open AI partnership and how that impacts the service when it comes to regional privacy concerns. Mike also touches upon the importance of business partners as it pertains to their successful Customer Service initiatives and how that led them to the recent announcement of the Service Directory that will allow you to easily find information for directly reaching well known branded companies. Lastly, the discussion turns to the upcoming launch of the muchly user requested Be My Eyes for Windows that is slated for a debut later this year. To learn more about the products and services mentioned during this interview, visit the official Be My Eyes site

A Quick Programming Note:

Sure, we released this one on April 1st. But, we promise, this is not a one off thing. We have more CSUNATC24 coverage heading towards the interwebs as you read this. And we have some other surprises along the way. We are trying out some new things, some new formats and some new tech. Although we hope to circle back to some familiar voices too. We thank you for listening and please be aware that some content may have shifted in the overhead bins while we were in flight.


We strive to provide an accurate transcription, though errors may occur.

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Announcer: Oh yeah, I am digging this. Welcome to the Blind Bargains Cast, featuring the latest in news about all the blind thingies that you didn't know about. That's why it's news. Wait, what am I talking about? I'm going to stop talking now and let Gigi tell you more. Uh, J.J., J.J., I meant J.J., I absolutely meant J.J.. Ya.
J.J. Meddaugh: Yeah. It's J.J., it's been a long time since we've done one of these podcasts, so please excuse our dust as we try to put this whole thing back together. Back in 2015, our very first episode included an interview with the founders of a brand new app called Be My Eyes, an app that you could use to call a volunteer to have them describe your surroundings. Well, a few things have changed between then and now, as you may have heard or tried out. Now there's Be My AI, a service that can describe in great detail images and do so much more. Coming up, an interview with the current CEO of Be My Eyes, Mike Buckley. But first, let's try to figure out how to do a podcast again. Now let's see, I do think we still have Patrick Perdue along for the ride, our amazing audio production guy, so that's one good thing we have going for us, but what about a co-host? We had a co-host, Joe Steinkamp, I don't know if he's available yet, he's definitely going to be around, he's a part of this thing. We're not getting rid of Joe, but Joe? [cat meow] Um, well, okay, well, we're trying to figure that out. You know, it's 2024, so maybe we should bring in a new co-host, one that is powered by artificial intelligence.
Female voice: As an AI language model, please remember that while I strive to be accurate and engaging, I don't possess personal experiences or emotions. My responses are generated based on a vast data set up to my last update, so I might not be up to date with the very latest trends or news. Furthermore, while I aim to be inclusive and sensitive, my understanding of complex human context isn't perfect. Also, why did you spell qast with a Q? It's important to recognize the correct spellings of words. All this having been said, I really don't know why they put me here because I honestly don't have anything interesting to say about anything.
JM: Well, that's a work in progress. Yeah, you know what? I think it's also time for a new theme. We had the same theme for nine years and that wasn't even supposed to be our permanent theme. It just kind of became a theme. So I whipped up an updated version. So let's roll it. [cheesy keyboard theme plays in the background] Stay tuned. Our interview with Mike Buckley, direct from CSUN 2024 in Anaheim, is coming up next.
JM: Many of our podcast interviews are being recorded using new accessible voice recorders from Zoom. Zoom has released three new Essential voice recorders, the H1, H4, and H6Essential, all providing unparalleled audio quality and accessible features like a voice guide that helps you know what menu option you are on when you're moving through the menus. They're available now at, ranging from the simple but powerful H1Essential for $99 up to the H6Essential for $299, which has the capability of recording up to six tracks at once. We love them. We used them for our podcast out in CSUN in Anaheim in 2024, and we think you will as well. Again, you can go to to learn more about the Zoom accessible voice recorders or call 269-216-4798.
[interview sounder]]
JM: We are here at CSUN 2024. I'm a bit rusty. I haven't done one of these in about two years now, but I figured what would make the most sense to come back to the podcast. The first one that we're recording is to go back to the first interview we ever did. We talked to Be My Eyes. Mike Buckley is now the CEO of Be My Eyes and joins us on the podcast. Welcome to Blind Bargains.
Mike Buckley: J.J., thanks for having me, man. It's great to be here with you.
JM: Thank you so much, and please excuse the rust. We'll see how it goes. So obviously a lot has changed, you know, when we had Be My Eyes on Episode 1, 2015. You just come out and you were a visual assistance service through the means of sighted volunteers. A lot has changed since then. I think most of our listeners probably know, but just in case they do not, why don't you just fill us in on what the more current stuff is happening and especially what is Be My Eye.
MB: Absolutely. I mean, you know, you talked about 2015. We've changed a lot since then. I think there were about 20,000 total people on our platform, and now we're close to 8 million, J.J.. As you probably know, we offer three basic services. One is the ability to call a volunteer 24-7, anywhere in the world, any language, 150 countries, 180 languages. Over 90% of those calls are successful. We offer the ability to connect to companies, customer service operations through our products, and we enhance those products with one-way video calls for a better customer service experience, and as you said, we've launched in the last year something that we call Be My AI, which is really a state-of-the-art visual interpretation service using ChatGPT to completely and thoroughly and reasonably quickly describe a picture in any context or setting, and just so your listeners know, J.J. helped us develop this product. He was one of our beta testers and personally responsible for us making it better on a number of fronts, so thank you, sir.
JM: Well thank you so much for the opportunity. I'm not going to lie. As soon as I learned of this last year, and you know, Mike, I pretty much made it my mission to see something, I don't care what else I do here, I am chasing you down and the people down at Be My AI so I can be able to try this out, and it's amazing the vividness of picture descriptions. I know most of our listeners know by now it's way different than just having a few words about a scene. It's an entire paragraph or more, and you can ask follow-up questions. It is so amazing. If you've not tried it yet, I definitely encourage people now. It's public on both the iOS and Android app stores. So with Be My AI, a lot has happened over the past year. Let's just talk about how the service has grown. How much is it being used, and what are some of the more interesting use cases that you've run across?
MB: Yeah, it is growing leaps and bounds, J.J.. You know, we started with maybe 100,000 AI sessions a month, and it quickly went up to 200, then 400, and then in the last 30 days, we've had over 1.3 million AI sessions on Be My AI, and so it's exploding, and it's in a good way, and look, that tells us a couple of things. It tells us that there's product market fit here, right? That it's actually providing value. The other thing that I'm really encouraged by, and you know this yourself because you were in, you've been on this product for a year, probably, you know, just about longer than anybody else, we're seeing far fewer errors now. It's gotten much better and more robust, and it's just, it works better, and there are two things I would say about that is, you know, there's something we call errors, and there's something we call hallucinations. An error is when maybe it reads something wrong, or it gets the number on the y-axis of a graph wrong, or maybe it has the wrong price for a hamburger if it looks at a menu, and occasionally, there are still those errors, and then there are things that are called hallucinations where these models literally make stuff up out of thin air, and we're seeing almost none of those these days. It's very, I try to get the thing to hallucinate every night before I go to sleep, and I haven't, and I know that's how boring my life is. I haven't been able to get it to hallucinate and just make something up for several months now, so I'm excited by that. You talked about interesting use cases. We have seen this in every facet of life that you can imagine, OCR, reading a menu, reading anything, looking at a book, looking at an academic paper, interpreting graphs. People are using this to go on Instagram. People, I got a note the other day from a woman who said she uses this on dating apps. Nice. Right? To kind of get a description of the person. We have a, I think I've said this before, so it may not be the first time some people have heard this, but there was a woman who said her pet parakeet got out of the cage and she took a snapshot of her living room and it accurately told her where the parakeet was on the far left corner of the living room, and she was able to get a hold of the bird. And so we've seen it used to verify an airport gate or something on a bill, like your AT&T statement or whatever. So literally the use cases that we're seeing are almost endless. It's been fascinating.
JM: So you mentioned the dating app, so that's a good segue over to one of the big challenges that you've had over the past year, dealing with various states or countries that are imposing restrictions on AI, especially around face recognition. That's been a bit of a challenge for you. What's the latest with that and how are you approaching that topic?
MB: Yeah, I mean, the good news is, is that we've worked with OpenAI to make it available across the board, which is exciting. And there's a difference between description and recognition, right? So facial description is like, you take a picture of me and someone says, oh, I see this guy. He looks middle-aged. Wow, he's got more gray hair than he used to or whatever else. Whereas facial recognition, it would say, this is Mike Buckley. So the tool doesn't do that. It doesn't say this is Mike Buckley or this is J.J. Meddaugh. It says, it's just descriptions. And so we're not going to be running afoul of any laws there, but there are still laws in a couple of states that are more restrictive on biometric information. And so we had to work through that with OpenAI.
JM: So is it still in place? I know Illinois was one example that was cited as far as like, if you're still in the state of Illinois, are you not able to do anything related to faces or has that been addressed?
MB: The last time I checked is in Illinois, the service is less robust and will not give you as big a description. And I think the faces are still blurred in some places, but OpenAI was working on that. I need to double check that for you.
JM: Fair enough. I mean, it's going to be an ongoing concern as new laws are passed. And there are certainly rightful reasons to pass AI bills and restrictions and things like that. We just want to make sure that they're not impeding on the development that you've had with BMI AI.
MB: Yeah. It's not stopping us. And I will say this, we plan to engage in advocacy on this issue. The number of people who are blind and low vision that I've talked to are very passionate about this. And their argument is very simple. I should have the same power in my fingertips that someone who's sighted has. Yep. Full stop. And look, I respect that argument. And so we're going to fight to make this available and legal everywhere we can.
JM: So 1.3 million in a month. So if you were the average user just using OpenAI's API, so the way that anyone could contact and access this interface, which is now publicly available, became so in the fall, you'd be paying a lot of money for 1.3 million API calls. Are you still getting everything for free? And is it the intent from OpenAI for that to continue in perpetuity?
MB: I mean, we've got a good deal in place and we're talking with OpenAI about a model that's going to work long term. Look, I think OpenAI has a right to make money, you know, for providing service. And the good thing is, is they're working with us to do this in a way that's going to work. And so I think we're comfortable that we're going to figure out an economic model for the long term. And thankfully, our corporate customers like Spotify, Google, Microsoft, P&G, Barilla Pasta, many others, they pay the bills for us. And so I do like to mention those brands. And there are many others. Lego is another customer who has a lot of fun use cases. But we feel pretty comfortable that we're going to leave this service on and we figured out an economic model that's going to work.
JM: So meaning you'll be able to keep at least this level of service free
MB:? Absolutely. So J.J., you know us, you know the ethos of Be My Eyes. We do not want to charge for products and services. And so we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that our tools are available to the community for free.
JM: Well, one new service that you have just announced, well, this week as of recording, is an extension of the specialized help, but a way for people to contact customer service and perhaps a bit more. Tell us about that.
MB: Yeah, we've launched something called Service Directory. And it's after really getting the feedback from our community of 615,000 people who are blind or low vision that are utilizing our service. They basically have told us that even finding a customer service number is a pain. Sometimes those numbers are deliberately hidden or obfuscated by companies. Sometimes you get stuck in automated bot hell. And so what we decided to do is, irrespective of whether or not companies pay us, we are going to put their actual customer service number that hopefully gets to a human being available on our site, in our app, for free. So it started out with 600 companies as of Monday, the 18th of March. And we eventually are going to make this literally every business-to-consumer company we can in the world. So we'll end up having tens of thousands eventually in here. And that's going to mean we're going to have to add things like voice navigation and a way to get to these numbers beautifully and seamlessly. But we think that it's an important service to the community. And by the way, we're then going to go talk to these companies that we list and try to establish commercial relationships with them to make their customer service lines better. So I want to be clear for your listeners that these customer service lines to start are going to be audio only. That's a phone call. That's not always an awesome experience for someone who's blind or has low vision. So we're going to try to go sell more advanced tools to these companies on a one-way video product that makes the customer service better, or enhanced AI features that will make the customer service better. So it's not only something that's a service for our community, but it's also something that we're trying to use to accelerate our business and our revenue so we can develop more cool products and services.
JM: Sounds to me like it's almost a rebrand of the specialized help because you're including both of those services in the same tab on the app.
MB: That's correct. Look, the way I think about this is, you know, Yelp did this years ago with restaurants, right? Yep. They put restaurants on there and they said, hey, if you want to put your branding and your open hours and some fun stuff and reviews and things like that, pay us. And that's the argument we're going to be making to companies also.
JM: And I need to thank you because I was surprised. I looked through yesterday. Wow. A. T> Guys is already in there. It's awesome. So thank you so much.
MB: Yeah. No worries.
JM: We'll have to see what it looks like to sponsor or go further with that. It's really cool.
MB: If we even are enhanced tools, we will for any organization that's advancing the cause of blindness, we're going to either heavily discount that or find a way to do it for very, very low cost. So we would never charge blindness organizations the same way we charge kind of large corporate entities.
JM: That's very cool. So there's more developments happening. One of the ones that was recently announced earlier this year is a desktop app. So tell me a little more about that.
MB: Yeah. I mean, it's again, we, we, our job is to be responsive to the feedback we get from our community and what the community has told us is I want a desktop app. And so we're starting out with a windows integration that should work seamlessly. It's in an early beta right now, but Microsoft did mention this at their recent ability summit. What's really cool is our engineers are working with Microsoft engineers together on this. And I think that my hope is that by May, although I always over promise my engineers and then they get pissed off at me, J.J.,
JM: Well
MB: sorry, Esper and team. I apologize if I've overextended myself yet again or overextended you yet again. But I think we're going to launch something as early as May that will be kind of a really nicely integrated experience in a windows environment that will make that just even more accessible than it already is.
JM: So the AI picture description arena is expanding quickly and we went from Be My AI being the only option to others now throwing their hat into the ring. So JAWS has the new enhancements to Picture Smart. You can do add-ons for NVDA now. Yep. Does that change at all how you think about the desktop app?
MB: Not really. I mean, look, I think it's great that everybody's jumping into this. The way I think about this is AI is going to be everywhere whether we like it or not. And I think all any company in the, not just the accessibility space, but in the world is going to look at how to provide their products and services in an enhanced fashion through AI. So it's coming. I think everybody's going to be using these models. The question for the consumer will be for the blind and low vision consumer is what do you like best? What has the best user interface and user experience? Who do you trust? And I think consumers will make those branding decisions. You know, it was really neat to see some of the screen readers advance this, but I got to tell you, I saw a demo a couple of days ago of what is being called an AI screen reader that is operated solely by voice. It's clunky and it doesn't work completely yet, but I think that's coming, right? Where you could just say, click on this or scroll to the right. Yeah, I want to buy four toasters off this site. I need a price that's under $40, two, you know, two ports at the top that have four and a half star ratings or better. Please navigate me there. And like, this is coming. We're close. This is, yeah, I think so. I think so.
JM: And we're talking, it might even be months, not years. As the newer models develop, there's going to be newer GPT models coming out probably this year, which I assume you'll get access to at some point when those types of things happen. You mentioned trust and I know there's always a lot of concerns about privacy and data. So what, how much access do you have to conversations and what types of safeguards should people use when they're taking pictures or using the app?
MB: I think you should feel pretty secure that your data is safe. What I would say is we always want to be extra cautious about anything that's a high stakes use case, medicine, crossing a street, right? Anything to do with navigation. The reason I love the Be My AI service is because it always affords you the opportunity to roll over into a volunteer call. So if you're, you know, if you take a picture of something or it's a high stakes use case, like a bottle of medication or something like that, or you're worried about like an allergen, like in a food ingredient list, always a great thing to double check that with a volunteer. So I'm glad that that's there. But you know, from a data perspective, OpenAI has been wonderful and they made a public announcement many months ago about how any developer on their platform can opt out to having their usage of the models removed from their training in the future. And I think, you know, that's great that OpenAI has given us, us and other companies that opt out.
JM: Did you guys do that?
MB: Yeah, absolutely.
JM: That makes a lot of sense. What else is forthcoming either with the app or anything else that you can publicly share at this point that we might want to look forward to?
MB: Well, as I mentioned, we're going to do a whole bunch of additional companies on the service directory. In the next couple of months, you will see us announce major, major deals with a very large hotel chain, with an airline and a whole bunch of other interesting corporate customers. You'll see that. I think you will also see us pursue further AI integrations, not only on the desktop, but on kind of really broad based computing. So I can't talk too much about it, but J.J., it's going to be a very spring, very busy spring and early summer, and we'll talk again.
JM: Absolutely. I know I've had so much fun playing with AI, I certainly can't hide my excitement when it comes to that stuff. I would do every podcast about AI if I had the choice. And it's been so much fun to follow and use Be My AI and all the Be My Eyes tools. So definitely just thank you and everyone at Be My Eyes for putting this all together and just really opening up a whole new world for people.
MB: Well, and thank you. I mean, I know I've personally learned from you and the incredible feedback that you've given. Just so your listeners know, J.J. was part of this amazing Slack group. Slack is this online communication tool that you can use for collaboration, and J.J. was literally in there every day kind of advising us and riffing on ideas and making suggestions. And it was one of the most fun development projects I've been involved in because that group was incredible. And you were one of the leaders of that group.
JM: I did not pay him to say that. Maybe I did.
MB: He did not pay me.
JM: Maybe I did.
MB: Or he told me the check's in the mail.
JM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, you know, that's what the AI said. You know, it was mailing the check for me. So I don't know. Google bar once told me it ordered me a pizza, but it never actually did order me a pizza.
MB: Oh Man.
JM: And I'm still waiting for it. I'm really hungry now. So if people want to get more information about Be My Eyes or everything related to you all, what's the best way to do that?
MB: Certainly or downloading our app through any app store that's available in both, as you said, Android and iOS, a lot of information in both places. And as I always say to people, you know, I try to answer every email. And my email is And you know, I did this. I said that at the National Federation of the Blind and when I spoke at the National Convention. I think I got 243 emails, but I answered every one of them. I feel like not only me, but Be My Eyes has a responsibility to the community that we take incredibly seriously. And so, you know, a couple of late nights of email answering, I'll live.
JM: Sure. You know, when you get tired of it, you just have the A.I. do it for you.
MB: Not yet.
JM: We'll never know.
MB: It's coming right, it's coming.
JM: Well, thank you so much for helping us get the podcast back off to a great start. So great to have you on today.
MB: Yeah. J.J., welcome back into the fire. And thanks for having me, man.
Announcer: This has been another Blind Bargains audio podcast. Visit for the latest deals, news and exclusive content. This podcast may not be retransmitted, sold or reproduced without the express written permission of A. T. Guys.
Patrick Perdue: Copyright 2024.

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Joe Steinkamp is no stranger to the world of technology, having been a user of video magnification and blindness related electronic devices since 1979. Joe has worked in radio, retail management and Vocational Rehabilitation for blind and low vision individuals in Texas. He has been writing about the A.T. Industry for 15 years and podcasting about it for almost a decade.

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