March 2017: Project Literacy Launches Report on Human vs. Machine Literacy in the UK

Progress in human literacy has stalled since 2000, while 'machine literacy' races ahead.

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Progress in human literacy has stalled since 2000, while 'machine literacy' races ahead.

Smartphones Will Read and Write Better Than
1.7 Million British Adults in the Next Decade

‘Machine literacy’ for Siri, Alexa and Cortana imminent – while human literacy rates remain stagnant, says forecast by University of Massachusetts Amherst and Project Literacy

March 9, 2017:  While progress in improving human literacy rates has stalled since 2000  -- leaving 750 million adults worldwide and almost 2 million Brits  illiterate (with 5 million having literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old) -- a new report predicts that technological advances will soon enable over 2 billion  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 over one in twenty British 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 1% of the UK population who are non-literate 
•    In the UK’s most deprived areas, more than a third of adults lack the literacy expected of an 11-year-old. 
•    There are more software engineers  in the United States than school teachers  demonstrating more attention is being focused on teaching algorithms and AI than people. 
•    1.7 million British adults can not currently read a road sign.  Yet 10 million self-driving cars are predicted to be on the road by 2020 .
Actress, activist and Project Literacy Ambassador, Lily Cole, commented on the research: “Technology has helped us achieve amazing things. But, in focusing on empowering our technology, this research shows how we have lost sight of the importance of empowering our people. Whilst technological progress is important, enabling our species by bridging the gap between literacy and technology is vital."

“‘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 16% of British people within the next decade” said Professor Brendan O’Connor, University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

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. 

“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 750 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].

Download the research here

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Notes to Editors:

Full Report Available Upon Request

Key Statistics on Illiteracy

Illiteracy is a truly global problem:
●    5 million adults in UK are described as functionally illiterate 
●    In England’s most deprived areas, more than a third of adults lack the literacy expected of an 11-year-old. 
●    England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults, with adults aged 55 to 65 in England performing better than 16 to 24 year olds at foundation levels of literacy and numeracy 
●    No country has ever achieved continued economic growth without having first achieved an adult literacy rate above 40 percent.  
●    Illiteracy costs the world $1.19 trillion a year.  It costs a developed nation 2 percent of its GDP each year and an emerging economy 1.2 percent of GDP. 
●    In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of illiterate adults has increased by 37 percent since 1990. 
●    In India, 287 million people do not have basic reading skills. 
●    32 million adults in the United States can’t read.  And one in four children grow up without learning how to read. 

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.
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