Technology is Reading and Writing Better than Adults


While progress in improving human literacy rates has stalled since 2000[1] — leaving 758 million[2] adults worldwide and 32 million Americans[3] illiterate– a new report predicts that technological advances will soon enable over 2 billion[4] smartphones to read and write. At the current rate of technological progress, devices and machines powered by AI and voice recognition software will surpass the literacy level of one in seven American adults within the next ten  years.

In their report, ‘2027: Human vs. Machine Literacy’ the global campaign Project Literacy and Professor Brendan O’Connor, University of Massachusetts Amherst, call for society to commit to upgrading its people at the same rate as upgrading its technology,  so that by 2030 no child is born at risk of poor literacy. They  highlight:

  • Machine literacy already exceeds the literacy abilities of 3% of the US population who are non-literate[5]
  • There are more software engineers[6] in the United States than school teachers[7].  We are focusing so much on teaching algorithms and AI to be better at language that we are forgetting that 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level[8]
  • 32 million American adults can not currently read a road sign.  Yet 10 million self-driving cars are predicted to be on the road by 2020[9].
  • The 2017 U.S. Federal Education Budget for schools is $40.4bn[10]. In 2015, investment in AI reached $47.2 billion and is expected to keep on increasing.[11]

Project Literacy, founded and convened by Pearson, is a campaign backed by more than 90 partners as diverse as UNESCO, Microsoft, Worldreader, the Clinton Foundation, Room to Read, Doctors of the World, the Hunger Project and  ProLiteracy.

“‘Machine reading’ is not close to mastering the full nuances of human language and intelligence, despite this idea capturing the imagination of popular culture in movies such as ‘Her’. However advances in technology mean that it is likely ‘machines’ will achieve literacy abilities exceeding those of one in seven Americans within the next decade” said Professor Brendan O’Connor, University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I was interested in exploring this topic as while there has been a lot of discussion around machine learning and machine reading, directly comparing machine literacy with human literacy really highlights the dichotomy between the  two.”

“Our new report highlights the gulf between technological and human progression. It is predicted that more than two billion smart phones will soon be capable of reading and writing, but 758 million people in the world still lack basic literacy skills and this skills gap is being passed on from generation to generation.  It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game –  technology has a crucial role to play in the fight against illiteracy’ said Kate James, Project Literacy spokesperson and Chief Corporate Affairs and Global Marketing Officer at  Pearson.

Project Literacy commissioned the report to draw attention to the shocking lack of progress being made in fighting illiteracy as well as shine a spotlight on the potential for technology to help bring about change.  The global movement aim to harness the power of technology to tackle the illiteracy crisis through a range of technology-led partnerships [See Notes to Editors for Case  Studies].

The report was launched ahead of Project Literacy’s upcoming presence at SxSW in Austin, where representatives will be on the ground raising awareness of the issue of illiteracy among the tech-savvy festival goers. Project Literacy will be encouraging the public to get involved in the fight against illiteracy through a number of unique experiences including an interactive Spelling Bee and thought-provoking talks. To support the initiative, Pearson will be matching donations from the festival on a 1:1 basis [See Notes to Editors for full  details].

For more information visit

Project Literacy invites SxSW visitors to join the Breaking the Cycle of Illiteracy Happy Hour, featuring the premier of the First Words film; an emotive and moving film which showcases some of the real life stories of adults who have overcome illiteracy. Visitors will also be invited to stay and listen to a distinguished speaker panel, featuring Susan Herr, Library Director of the Bulverde/Spring Branch Library  – a non-profit foundation library which excels in tech-based resources. This discussion will focus on how technology can be used to create a virtuous cycle of literacy to ensure future generations are able to read and  write.

Project Literacy Technology Led Case  Studies

World Reader

  • We partner with the non-profit Worldreader on a mobile technology project in India called Read to Kids
  • This project aims to transform the home environment into a literate one, specifically through the use of mobile devices, and to empower parents to talk more and read more to their children.
  • With the Worldreader mobile app, which is available on feature phones and smartphones, we are providing a rich bank of locally relevant content-in both English and Hindi-at very low cost to the end user.
  • For the initial pilot, we are focusing on low-income parents in Delhi who have children six-years-old and younger and aim to engage 200,000 parents by 2017.

Clinton  Foundation

  • We are partnering with the Clinton Foundation and its Too Small To Fail campaign to help parents take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of children ages zero to five, so that more of America’s children are prepared to succeed in the 21st century.
  • Together, we are building an evidence base on the use of mobile technology to empower parents and build children’s pre-literacy skills, evaluating pilot projects underway in communities around the U.S.

Project Literacy  Lab

  • We also know that there are potentially exciting market solutions to tackling literacy and are working with The Unreasonable Group to develop the world’s first accelerator program focused on supporting rapid growth startups across key emerging markets that are positioned to help close the global illiteracy gap by 2030. Here is a full list of these ventures


  • We are partnering with UNESCO, who for 65 years has worked to ensure that literacy remains a priority on national and international agendas, on a joint research project on how to leverage innovations in information and communications technology, especially mobile. We will document and share innovative case studies to inform the work of governments, business, and civil society as they focus on literacy and to help deliver on commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals.

About Project  Literacy

Project Literacy is a global campaign founded and convened by Pearson to make significant and sustainable advances in the fight against illiteracy so that all people – regardless of geography, language, race, class, or gender – have the opportunity to fulfill their potential through the power of  words.

Project Literacy Partners  include:

28 Too Many, 826 National, Achievement for All, Action on Addiction, AFRIpads, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, Angaza, Asia Foundation, Book Aid International, Book Trust, Books Beyond Words, CENPEC, Center for Literacy, Doctors of the World UK, Edom, Edovo, Eduze, FCB INFERNO, Feed the Minds, Fight for Peace, First Book, GOOD Worldwide, Guru-G, Guten, Insane Logic, Jumpstart, Karadi Path, Kingo, Lessons for Life Foundation, LightSail, Literacy Action, Literacy Partners, LitWorld, Livox, Microsoft, National Literacy Trust, NOW, Nutrition & Education International (NEI), Office of Adult Education – City of Philadelphia and Adults Can Learn to Read (ACLTR), Pearson, Pencils of Promise, Pledgeling, Project Literacy of Bergen County, ProLiteracy, Raising a Reader, Reach Out and Read, Read Easy UK, Read On. Get On., Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Reading Partners, Results for Development Institute, Robbie AI, Room to Read, SunCulture, The Big Issue, The Hunger Project, The Institute for Strategic, Dialogue, ThinkCERCA, Too Small To Fail, Ubongo, UNESCO, Unreasonable Group, Veerni Project, War Child UK, Weber Shandwick, Womankind Worldwide, World Literacy Foundation,  Worldreader.

About Pearson

Pearson is the world’s learning company, with expertise in educational courseware and  assessment, and a range of teaching and learning services powered by technology. Our mission is to help people make progress through access to better learning. We believe that learning opens up opportunities, creating fulfilling careers and better lives. For more, visit .

1. Source : Project Literacy & PSB Research Whitepaper

2. Source : Unesco

3. Source : National Centre for Education Statistics

4. Source : SMS Global

5. Source : National Centre for Education Statistics

6. Source : Global Developer Population and Demographic Study 2016 v2

7. Source : 2015 Digest of Education Statistics

8. Source : Literacy Project Foundation

9. Source : BI Intelligence

10. Source : US Government Spending

11. Source : Venture Scanner

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.