In June, Microsoft will preview a new version of Word that will use artificial intelligence to make your writing politically correct. Using the Orwellian marketing term “Ideas in Word,” it will underline words or phrases that sound insensitive and suggest corrections.
Microsoft’s rivals have made similar moves. Google in February announced an A.I. writing tool to “incorporate the complexity and nuances of grammar correction.”
Say you write, “We need to get some fresh blood in here.” A.I. is likely to underline “fresh blood” and suggest “new employees” instead.
Of course, gender “bias” is high on the list. The generic words “mailman” or “congressman” would generate the androgynous titles of “mailperson” or “congressperson.” If you use the time-tested and rich term “gentlemen’s agreement,” Word suggests you use dry “unspoken agreement” instead.
For a “disabled person,” A.I. would add two more words, suggesting “person with a disability.”
Brave New World “inclusiveness” are part of a larger group of “Refine My Writing” tools that also include “sensitive geopolitical terms.” The A.I.’s models look for phrases and “trigger words” that “might be offensive to someone in another country or culture,” Microsoft says.
“Mankind” is out in favor and the gender-neutral term “humanity” is pushed in its place- “That’s one small step for a person, and one giant leap for humanity.”
As advisers for this new program, Microsoft assembled the ever present “team of linguists and other experts” to anticipate the “poor word choices” people might make and assemble lists of terms that would work better, Office Intelligence product manager Malavika Rewari said.
“The A.I.’s training data also includes Wikipedia pages, which are constantly being updated and corrected,” she said, adding that program will able to detect “nuances” in language.
Microsoft said, “The more A.I. can take the low-level composing work off the shoulders of journalists and other writers, the better.”
One of the consulted “experts” was the Linguistic Society of America (LSA). In their school-marm guidelines for inclusive language, they point to “insensitive” language and “stereotyping” — even calling out positive stereotyping.
1984 called this “Goodthinkful” a newspeak word meaning “naturally orthodox, incapable of thinking a bad thought.”
For example, even statements that appear to convey “positive” stereotypes (e.g. “women are more polite than men,” “Asians tend to score well on standardized tests”) but that oversimplify characteristics among those sharing the identity and overlook crucial differences can evoke or reinforce existing stereotypes on the part of the reader, the organization said.
“Duckspeak” in 1984 is a newspeak term that means “to quack like a duck” (literal meaning) or “to speak without thinking.” Duckspeak can be good or “ungood” (bad) depending on who is speaking and whether what they are saying aligns with Big Brother’s ideals.
Normative descriptions, such as “normally developed” or “handicapped individuals” is on the radar as well. According to this crew, references to norms may reinforce divisions and stereotypes.
Some very common types of language used in the past may now be considered offensive; for example, “China Town” versus the sterile “International District.” Yes, let’s all go to International District for some “international food” served by a “waitperson.” No, thank you.
“The boy kissed the girl” places the female as the object of the male’s intentional actions. That one “perpetuates rigid or arbitrary gender roles.”
LSA opines that where humor is intended, care should be taken to avoid constructing examples that are lewd or offensive, that perpetuate stereotypes or that convey an implicit bias. Authors are encouraged to use cultural sensitivity and respect when constructing examples. Examples that are intended to be humorous or playful may be interpreted by future readers as belittling.
Quote from 1984: “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
Winter Watch Takeaway: You know how annoying it is when your phone corrects “fucking” to “ducking” every time you type the word? Imagine that all day, every day. Rumor has it that each purchase of the new Word will come with a voucher for a year’s supply of soy lattes from Starbucks and a virtue badge for your social media profile.