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The new Seeing AI app from Microsoft narrates the world for the visually impaired. (Microsoft Photos, via App Store)

Microsoft released a new artificial intelligence app for iPhone this morning that can read text from signs and documents aloud, describe people and their emotions, identify currency values, and narrate the activity taking place in front of the user, among other futuristic features.

The app, called Seeing AI, is designed for the visually impaired but also serves as a showcase for Microsoft’s artificial intelligence capabilities. The initial release on iPhone continues Microsoft’s approach, under CEO Satya Nadella, of working with a variety of platforms beyond its own Windows operating system.

Seeing AI was first previewed at a Microsoft conference last year, but wasn’t available publicly until now.

The news was part of an event this morning in London where the company made a series of AI announcements, including a new AI “research and incubation hub” inside Microsoft Research, a new “Ethical Design Guide for AI” and an initiative called AI for Earth to encourage the use of artificial intelligence for environmental solutions.

Microsoft is competing against a variety of tech companies seeking to make a mark in artificial intelligence, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Salesforce and others. The company last year formed a new 5,000-person engineering and research team, called the Microsoft AI and Research Group, led by veteran technology exec Harry Shum, to further its AI initiatives.

Update: The currency recognition feature is listed as “coming in future.” We’ve asked Microsoft for more information on the timing.

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