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Machines Are Increasingly Getting Smarter Than Humans, At Least Some Humans

March 17, 2017 By Molly White in

Machines will be able to read and write better than 1 in 7 Americans within the next 10 years, according to a study about human vs. machine learning from Project Literacy and University of Massachusetts, Amherst Professor Brendan O’Connor.

More than 2 billion smartphones will be “literate” – able to read and write given the current pace of artificial intelligence (AI) innovation in the mobile telecom industry. Meanwhile, since 2000 progress in raising human literacy rates has stalled.

That leaves an estimated 32 million Americans and 758 million people worldwide illiterate, Project Literacy highlights in “2027: Human vs. Machine Literacy.”

Human Vs. Machine Learning

Prof. O’Connor and Project Literacy have put out a call to society to commit to improving human literacy at a pace equal to or greater than that taking place with regard to machine literacy. The ultimate goal is to ensure that no child is born at risk of poor literacy or illiteracy by 2030.

Offering additional motivation, Project Literacy highlights some compelling findings from its study

  • Machine literacy already exceeds the literacy abilities of 3% of the US population who are non-literate
  • There are more software engineers in the United States than school teachers. 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
  • 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.
  • The 2017 U.S. Federal Education Budget for schools is $40.4bn. In 2015, investment in AI reached $47.2 billion and is expected to keep on increasing. 

Founded by U.K.-based publishing multinational Pearson, more than 90 private and public sector organizations have joined the Project Literacy campaign. These include the Clinton Foundation, Doctors of the World, Microsoft and UNESCO.

“‘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,” Prof. O’Connor said.

“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.” 

Commenting on the disparity in rates of human and machine literacy, Project Literacy spokesperson and Pearson’s chief corporate affairs and global marketing Officer Kate James said: “It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game – technology has a crucial role to play in the fight against illiteracy.”

More than 7 in 10 respondents to an NPD survey conducted last year said they use voice commands to communicate with smart home products. Six in 10 said they would like to make greater use of voice recognition and device automation.