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BusinessDay: Books, children and a future shaped by AI

By Johan Steyn, 31 May 2023

In a rapidly evolving world driven by technological advancements, the convergence of books, children, and the future holds great significance. As we embrace the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI), it is crucial to recognise how the timeless act of reading books can coexist harmoniously with AI technologies, shaping a future where human and computational intelligence complement each other.

As a parent, I am delighted that my 9-year-old son has discovered the joy of reading at an early age. I am doing all I can to ensure that he is preparing for a digital world, with engineering games on his iPad and a comfortable friendship with the voice command and other digital devices in our home.

He enjoys the library at his school and proudly brings home a new book every week. He loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Greg Heffley and I have recently introduced him to the timeless classic that shaped my young life: The Adventures of Tintin.

“Why do you like reading so much, my boy?” I was curious. “Because I always see you reading, Dad.” And herein lies the key to a literary proficient future workforce, in my opinion: as parents we cannot outsource the love of books and reading to school teachers. Our children need to learn to love books at home.

Tamar Kahn recently wrote in this newspaper (“Lack of books in SA’s homes throws spotlight on Pirls shock”, May 29) about a report by Unicef that 46% of local households with young children contain no books at all. The article quotes Stephen Taylor from the department of basic education saying that, “It seems difficult for government and other organisations to significantly change parent involvement in those homes where it is lacking.”

In another article by Claire Bisseker, in reference to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (“South Africa sinks to the bottom of the class,” May 25) says that “81% of South Africa’s grade 4 pupils cannot read for meaning”.

Reading plays a crucial role in children’s development, fostering language skills, cognitive abilities, imagination, empathy, and a love for learning. By nurturing a reading habit in children, we empower them to become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and individuals who can navigate the complexities of the world with confidence and understanding.

AI as a supportive tool in literacy can enhance children’s reading experiences and prepare them for a future where AI is an integral part of their lives. In the symbiotic relationship between books, children, and the future of AI, lies the potential to create a generation equipped with both the timeless joys of reading and the technological prowess of AI.

By integrating AI as a supportive tool, we can personalise reading experiences, foster interactive storytelling, and provide tailored interventions to enhance literacy skills. As children navigate the digital age, their ability to critically analyse information, think creatively, and engage with literature will be pivotal.

The fusion of books and AI opens up new horizons for interactive and immersive storytelling. AI technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality, can bring characters and settings to life, transporting children into captivating story worlds. Interactive elements within books, enabled by AI, encourage active participation, boosting comprehension, and sparking the imagination of young readers.

Educating children about the ethical considerations, algorithmic biases and responsible use of AI-generated information prepares them to navigate the digital world with a discerning eye, ensuring that they can make informed decisions and contribute positively to a future shaped by AI.

• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and founder of


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