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Levels of literacy and AI
Communication is a very complex cognitive ability that involves processes such as language, attention, memory, and problem-solving. Problems with semantics, for example, can cause misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and even communication that cannot be understood. For example, most people in the world don’t speak English, or even if they do, it’s their second or third language. If the content and the recipient of the content do not use the same language and words, the communication may not make sense. Even when in the same language as the reader’s native language, there are also large differences in literacy levels and language ability. According to the International Survey of Adult Literacy and Skills in Canada1, about half of Canadians have trouble reading even the most basic type of text.
“If a reader cannot understand a document, then the message of that document is not communicated” (Matsune2, 2007).
We are going to do a simple test, here is the description of a fruit written in a language based on scientific and specialized words:
Elongated herbaceous perennial fruit of the Musaceae family.
Do you know what fruit I’m talking about? It is possible that you know it, but in order to understand the description you need some previous knowledge that many people may not have.
I’ll try to make it simpler:
Fruit with a yellow peel that you can take off to eat. Inside, it’s soft and sweet.
Now? Do you know what fruit it is? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? An Apple! I’m kidding… it’s a banana!
As can be seen in this simple example, literacy levels in some subjects vary in function of the reader. This is one of the biggest difficulties a museum professional faces when writing a text for the interpretation of an object. It shouldn’t be too complex for a wider audience to understand, but also not too simple so that the audience doesn’t feel dumbed down.
This is where AI can be very useful. It can be an aid to provide customized texts to readers based on their communicative needs: either by language or by the level of literacy in the topic.
Using prompts like:
Describe a banana in simple language for someone with no prior knowledge.
Describe a banana in complex language for someone skilled in botany.
You can get texts that are useful to two different types of audiences. This is very useful, for example, when talking about a historical fact that is well-known for residents of a country but foreign people do not know.
For example, these applications can operate under BYOD applications (Bring Your Own Device) based on questionnaires, being able to know what type of text can be useful to the audience or not.
It is a topic that is very trendy right now, there is a lot of talk about its disadvantages (and maybe there are), but what if we seek to take advantage of such a powerful tool?
What is your opinion?
Matsune, H. (2007). Plain Language: Breaking Down the Literacy Barrier. Language Update, [online]. Available at: https://www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/tpv2guides/guides/favart/index-eng.html?lang=eng&lettr=indx_autr8MmWkk0tDPK4&page=9XQTsIfEcnrI.html [Accessed 1 Jun. 2022].