This is part of a series giving you an insider’s view of the products coming out of Pittsburgh to change the world.
It’s hard enough to be a dyslexic student when you’re a fourth grader having difficulty reading. Imagine how much harder it can become when, to compensate, your teacher gives you a first grade book because it matches your reading level. You don’t really want to read that “baby book” that doesn’t match your interests at your age.
Yet with 780 million people being diagnosed with dyslexia worldwide, that scenario plays out in millions of classrooms around the world every year.
The emotional toll wasn’t lost on Scott Sosso, whose son Luca was diagnosed with dyslexia while at North Allegheny School District.
After much research and discussion with experts, Sosso invented Luca.AI, an artificial intelligence-based learning system named after his son that uses advanced science to fill some of the gaps in the way schools typically deal with dyslexic students.
With Luca.AI, the system learns the student’s interests and their reading challenges and then creates a story that meets both criteria.
The student reads along with the system, getting hints when needed. Once completed, Luca.AI provides customized lessons based on the student’s areas of difficulty and known scientific processes to treat those specific needs.
Traditionally, it requires a reading specialist or other trained practitioner to be with a student to hear and help with these difficulties, which Sosso says typically happens in a single session per week, far less time than the four to five times weekly he says is beneficial.
“The students don’t even think they made a mistake as they read,” says Sosso. “They think they read it right.”
Luca.AI enables more reading practice in a guided fashion by supplementing the trained practitioner to allow more reading of interest and more opportunities for students to become better at reading.
Luca.AI uses a combination of ChatGPT to bring in hundreds of stories and internally developed AI, some of which was created by graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University as part of a capstone project. The science and techniques were also guided by Dr. Michael Shamos, a distinguished career professor with CMU’s Institute for Software Research and Language Technologies Institute, as well as other Pittsburgh-based advisors with expertise in computer science and learning.
To accomplish its mission, Luca.AI combines automatic speech recognition at a word part level – graphemes (the smallest meaningful element of writing) and phonemes (perceptually distinctive sounds that create words, for example, the “sh” sound in “special.”)
According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, dyslexia affects 20% of the population and represents 80–90% of all those with learning disabilities. That may explain in part the results of a 2013 U.S. Department of Education study that found high school graduation rates of students with dyslexia were only 62% compared to 81% for the general population.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
Twenty-three percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 13% of children with basic or proficient reading skills, thus affecting their entire school tenure.
Sosso believes that Luca.AI will reduce the disparity in graduation rates and create a better learning environment for general population students as well as for students with dyslexia.
“The most exciting thing about our program is that we can impact readers from kindergarten to 12th grade,” he says.
Know of a product or service being developed in Pittsburgh or by a Pittsburgh-based company that is cool, is creating growth, or will change the world? Let David know via email.