AI Literacy, Explained

Alyson Klein

K-12 students have grown up in a world where artificial intelligence informs what their families buy at the grocery store, how scientists track the spread of diseases, and even how the photo filters work on their favorite social media apps.

But the technology was largely invisible to them—and their teachers—until a new version of ChatGPT burst onto the educational scene late last year. The tool can spit out an essay on Shakespeare, a detective novel, or a legal brief that appears remarkably like something a human has labored over. It can also do computer coding.

The technology poured accelerant on a conversation already underway: Now that AI is shaping nearly every aspect of our lives and is expected to transform fields from medicine to agriculture to policing, what do students need to understand about AI to be prepared for the world of work? To be a smart consumer and a responsible citizen?

“The AI genie is out of the bottle,” said Cynthia Breazeal, a professor of media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s not just in the realm of computer science and coding. It is affecting all aspects of society. It’s the machine under everything. It’s critical for all students to have AI literacy if they are going to be using computers, or really, almost any type of technology” in their daily lives.

The question of what makes a person AI literate is evolving. But it involves delving into technical questions like: “What’s happening under the hood? How does it work? How does it impact me and the world around us?” said Bryan Cox, the lead computer science specialist at the Georgia education department.

AI literacy is something that every student needs exposure to—not just those who are planning on a career in computer science, experts argue.

“When we all went to school, we learned how the light bulbs work or how the digestive system works or how photosynthesis works,” said Hadi Partovi, the CEO of, which works to expand computer science offerings in K-12 schools. “And you teach those things to everybody, not just the botanists or the electricians or the surgeons. You learn [these things] to have a better understanding of your world. But most people don’t know how the internet works, how a smartphone works, how an algorithm works, and they definitely don’t know how AI works.”

Here’s how to begin developing AI literacy, according to experts and educators...



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