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Literacy in the Time of Artificial Intelligence

Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope

The latest mutation of Artificial Intelligence, “Generative AI,” is more than anything a technology of writing. Generative AI is a machine that can write. In a world-historical frame, the significance of this cannot be understated. It is a technology in which the unnatural language of code tangles with the natural language of everyday life. Its form of writing, moreover, is multimodal, able not only to write text as conventionally understood, but “read” images by matching textual labels and “write” images from textual prompts. Within the scope of this peculiarly machinic writing is mathematics, actionable software procedure, and algorithm. This paper explores the consequences of Generative AI for literacy teaching and learning. In its first part, we speak theoretically and historically, suggesting that this development is perhaps as momentous for society and education as Bi Sheng’s invention of moveable type and Gutenberg’s printing press—and in its peculiar ways just as problematic. In the second part, we go on to propose that literacy in the time of AI requires a new way to speak about itself, a revised “grammar” of sorts. In a third part, we discuss an application we have developed that puts Generative AI to work in support of literacy and learning. We end with some broad-brushstroke implications for education.

[He] allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves. Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.

  • Revised draft, thanks everyone for the feedback!
  • Preprint: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, "Literacy in the Time of Artificial Intelligence,” EdArXiv, 2024, doi:
  • Full text here:
    Literacy in the Time of Artificial Intelligence