It’s become increasingly common to rely on the autocorrect functionality on our mobile phones as we go through each day. Apply users can use QuickType whilst Android users can choose to use SwiftKey (if it’s good enough for Stephen Hawking, it must be good enough for the rest of us).
But as the suggestions become even more nuanced, is there a risk that our conversational ability might be overly-influenced by the algorithms that underpin the software? Will computers replace free thought when it comes to word placement in our personal communications so that we become increasingly homogenised in our interactions?
That’s the question asked by philosopher Evan Selinger. At the most basic level, it’s very common today to find many people who simply check their written messages but instead rely on spellcheck to point out any errors. But modern software now analyses your email and texts and makes suggestions about what you might want to type next.
The crux of Selinger’s argument is that this is encouraging you to present a ‘predictable you’, as opposed to showing those flashes of individual uniqueness that are so important.
So is this simply yet another incarnation of technology-fear? After all, we once worried that heavy usage of text-speak on mobiles would destroy the English language. Interestingly, the evidence shows otherwise – check out John McWhorter’s TED talk below that explains that those who use it heavily are in fact learning another, second skill that develops alongside their ‘normal’ writing skills.
Perhaps it’s simply a case that the intelligence that powers that algorithm needs to advance significantly so that it can accurately represent our individual personalities. Or else, Selinger argues, we might all be content with simply putting far less effort into our levels of engagement in relationship with others – and that could very well have an effect in the real world.
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