A Really Tiny Issue with Language AIs

May 13, 2022

Why not rely on Google Docs’s linguistic AI instead of thinking for yourself? Well, there may be some issues with that approach. The Hustle advises, “Don’t Rely on Google Docs’ New Writing Tool to Do Your Work for You.” Writer Juliet Bennett Rylah explains:

“AI is fun when it eats horror movies and churns out Netflix’s Mr. Puzzles Wants You to Be Less Alive. But sometimes the lack of context is an issue. Take Google Docs’ new ‘assistive writing’ feature, which makes suggestions as you write (e.g., switching from passive to active voice or deleting repetitive words). This makes your writing more accessible, which is great. It may also suggest more inclusive language, while flagging words that could be deemed inappropriate. That’s cool, in theory, but many users have found the suggestions to be, well, a little weird. Motherboard tested out several text excerpts. While the tool suggested more gender-inclusive phrasing (e.g., ‘policemen’ to ‘police officers’), it also flagged the word ‘Motherboard.’ And while it suggested ‘property owner’ in lieu of ‘landlord,’ it didn’t flag anything in a slur-laden interview with ex-KKK leader David Duke.”

Is that good? As always, it comes down one inconvenient fact: An AI is only as good as its machine-learning materials. It seems those are as rife with bias as ever, and language tools are far from immune. Alas, it will be a while before we can confidently source out our writing to an algorithm. Meanwhile, Rylah suggests this guide for humans wishing to employ more inclusive language.

Cynthia Murrell, May 13, 2022

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