Using AI as AT: The Basics

A person typing with a screen overlay that says ChatGPT.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used more and more every day to power all sorts of technology, including assistive technology (AT). And while this technology already serves as the backbone of a variety of apps and features that you already use, such as text-to-speech, speech recognition, AI assistants such as Siri, etc., there is another way of using AI that you may not be aware of. Today we are going to talk about AI chat bots, and we’re going to discuss some of the ways in which these open-ended tools could be used as assistive technology.

First, there are plenty of AI chat bots to choose from, but personally I’ve gotten the best results with a free AI bot called OpenAI. Once you’ve signed up and are accepted into the program (I had the best luck using the “sign up with Google” option) you’ll be able to start a new chat. Once you’re in this chat window, you can start interacting with the AI by asking it a question.

Now let’s enter a query and see how these tools can sometimes be even more effective than Google. I’m going to ask the AI “What are the reasons for the start of World War 1?” and press the send button. Within seconds, the AI comes back to me with a list of eight major reasons why the war started, with a bit of background added to each point. This is something that AI chat bots do exceptionally well, regardless of the subject. So, you can see already how when it comes to writing and plotting out essays, this AI has a ton of potential. For individuals with executive functioning and other attention-based challenges, this quick synthesis of relevant data could represent a major chunk of time saved just by virtue of how good these apps are at identifying and gathering relevant points.

These apps also do a great job of offering alternative explanations to a variety of concepts. For example, if you are an auditory learner who has been learning math visually and struggling, you could ask the AI to elaborate on a certain specific area of difficulty, plus you can have that information read aloud if you’re using Edge. For example, I used OpenAI to “Explain Trigonometry”, and it did a great job of explaining the main points without going into too much detail.

When it comes to writing, AI chat bots excel at creating a solid foundation for you to expand on, but they won’t do the writing FOR YOU, at least not well. Ask a chat bot to create a fictional story and you’ll see that it does a good enough job setting up the beginning and end of a story, but when it comes to the “meat” of the story, (the actual content itself) these apps fall flat. It’s also sometimes against school regulations to use these apps, especially in universities, so you should always make sure you know the policy on AI before you think about employing one for anything academic. Professors and teachers also have access to tools which help them detect the use of AI, so again, use these tools at your own risk!

At the end of the day, AI is a tool, and if that tool can help a person with disabilities in their daily lives, then it can most definitely be considered AT. However, it’s important to note that this is a tool which requires a higher-than-normal level of user responsibility due to its open-ended nature, and in some ways it’s up to the user whether these apps will be used honestly and correctly.

Who knows how the attitude towards AI in academics will shift over the next coming years? One thing is for sure though; this will not be the last time that we talk about AI as AT, so stay tuned as we continue to wade our way through this fascinating and sometimes contentious technology.

This post originally appeared on the AT Help Desk website.

Tags: apps, assistive technology, AT HelpDesk, Atlantic Regional Office, technology

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