British billionaire Richard Branson, who famously struggled with dyslexia as a kid and eventually dropped out of school because of it, believes the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence hold great promise for people like him in the workplace. For example, A.I. applications powered by large language models may help dyslexics overcome reading and writing difficulties so that they can unleash their creativity.
The 72-year-old Virgin Group founder and chairman recently joined forces with Made By Dyslexia, a U.K.-based nonprofit, to launch DyslexAI, a campaign that encourages businesses to invest in workplace training for employees with dyslexia.
“A.I. is the perfect co-pilot for people with dyslexic skills,” Branson said in an interview with the U.K.’s PA news agency this week.
Dyslexia is the most common of all neurocognitive disorders. It’s estimated one in five Americans have dyslexia, representing as many as 90 percent of all people with learning disabilities, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. The disorder occurs at all levels of intelligence, and while people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often are very fast and creative thinkers, according to Yale.
As part of the DyslexAI campaign, Virgin Group and Made By Dyslexia released a video on April 25 in which an A.I. application is asked to think like famous dyslexic thinkers. The results, they argue, show A.I. cannot yet replicate the creative thinking of people with dyslexia.
Last year, Branson and Made By Dyslexia collaborated with LinkedIn to recognize dyslexic thinking as a valuable skill. Thousands of people, including Branson himself, have since listed dyslexic thinking as a skill on their LinkedIn profiles, said Kate Griggs, the founder of Made By Dyslexia.
“I’ve met so many kids over the years who’ve been dyslexic, and now when I meet kids, instead of them being down about it, they are proud about it and they see it as a superpower,” Branson said in the PA interview.
“They have to struggle to get through math, reading, the absolute basics at school,” he added. “But once they’re through that they can use their superpower which is their creativity and the fact that they will excel at other things to really flourish in life.”
Branson is severely dyslexic but was not diagnosed until his twenties. Feeling like a failure in school, he dropped out at the age of 15 to start a magazine called Student.
“I left school to start a magazine—which is quite bizarre for somebody who’s dyslexic—to campaign against the Vietnamese War, to campaign against the way we were taught at schools, to try to put the world right,” he said.
In retrospect, the billionaire is now convinced dyslexia might have made his career. “First of all, if I hadn’t been dyslexic, I wouldn’t have left school to do it,” Branson said. “Secondly, [because] I was dyslexic, I had to be a very good delegator and surround myself with great people, I had to become a great listener.”
“I could see the bigger picture, and I was willing to shoot for the skies,” he added. “From starting a magazine to starting a record company, then getting the brand going on a global basis…just thinking differently, perhaps, than people who weren’t dyslexic.”
Reading and writing assistance is one of the areas where A.I. developers have made great progress recently. Applications powered by natural language models, such as OpenAI’s GPT, are capable of summarizing reading material, explaining complex ideas, editing and proofreading, and producing human-like writings based on simple prompts.
Made By Dyslexia is launching a free workplace training course later this year on LinkedIn.