In April of 2022, Google quietly rolled out a very interesting feature called ‘Assistive Writer’ which automatically identifies noninclusive language like a spell checker. The tool, powered by a language processing AI, flags gendered language as well as other words like ‘landlord’ and suggests that they may be noninclusive.
The tool, while only in beta, gathered some quick attention across news outlets and Twitter users that took screenshots of surprise.
As the tool was reported on further, Google halted the Q2 roll-out of the “Assistive Writing” feature. In a response to The Washington Times, Google said it was pausing over concerns that “it could over or under correct certain phrases” (Google pauses ‘inclusive language’ corrections – Washington Times )
Whole Whale launched a somewhat similar tool in 2021 called the Inclusivity Tool with one big difference, it was opt-in. The Inclusivity Tool invites people to check the work they want for inclusive language and offers deeper context and suggestions for updated language.
Quick History of Spell Checks
The history of spell check as a web service is interesting and dates back farther than you realize. In fact, the first spell checker software was created in 1971 at MIT by Ralph Gorin (Ralph Gorin, talk, gold medal for spell checker – The History of Artificial Intelligence – Spotlight at Stanford), but they were only available to people who had access to expensive mainframe computers. It wasn’t until the 1990s that spell check became a widely available service through tools like Microsoft Word. And since then, it has become an integral part of our lives. Most of us use some form of spell check every day, whether it’s the built-in spell checker in our word processing software or a web-based service like Google’s Gmail.
Spell check is so ubiquitous that we often take it for granted. But have you ever wondered how spell check works? At its most basic level, spell check is a program that compares the words in a document to a dictionary and flags any words that are not found in the dictionary. The program then suggests possible replacements for the misspelled words.
So, how did they create it? The first step in creating a spell checker is to create a dictionary of valid words. This can be a time-consuming process, particularly if you want to support multiple languages. Once the dictionary is created, the next step is to write a program that can read through a document and compare each word to the words in the dictionary. If a word is not found in the dictionary, it is flagged as being misspelled. The program then looks at the context of the misspelled word to determine if it can suggest a correctly spelled word. For example, if you type “teh” instead of “the”, the program will suggest “the” as a possible replacement because “teh” is not likely to be correct in that context.
Once the program has finished checking all of the words in the document, it displays a list of all of the misspelled words and their suggested replacements. The user can then choose to accept or ignore each suggestion. Spell checkers have come a long way since their humble beginnings in the 1950s. Today, they are an essential part of our lives and we couldn’t imagine living without them!
Quick History of Grammar Checks
The history of grammar checks as a web service is interesting and dates back farther than you realize. Grammarly, the first grammar checker, was actually created in 2009. However, the idea for a grammar checker dates back to the early days of the internet. In 1994, Microsoft released a free grammar checker called WordPerfect for Windows. This was followed by a number of other grammar checkers, including those from Google and Yahoo.
What’s interesting about grammar checkers is that they are actually based on artificial intelligence (AI). This means that they get smarter over time as they learn from the mistakes that users make. Grammarly, for example, now has over 250 million users and is constantly improving its AI algorithms.
One of the benefits of using a grammar checker is that it can help you to avoid embarrassing mistakes. We’ve all had that moment where we send an email or post something online only to realize afterward that we made a mistake. A grammar checker can help you to avoid these embarrassing moments by catching errors before you hit send.
Another benefit of using a grammar checker is that it can help you to improve your writing over time. By catching errors and suggesting corrections, a grammar checker can help you to learn from your mistakes and become a better writer overall.
Why do we need an inclusivity checker?
This topic will be debated fiercely in the public town square and it should be. The problem will come down to how and who decides what is inclusive and not inclusive. There are many edge cases for outdated idioms and phrases that fall along social and cultural spectrums of acceptability.
There is a reason why spell checkers and grammar checkers are so useful, they save writers from the embarrassment of being wrong in communications. Once a word or phrase falls into the socially unacceptable linguistic parking lot, there will need to be a tool that helps alert someone that if they use it, it might offend a majority or minority of people. The question is, is that language database ready and can an AI answer a question society hasn’t answered for itself?