What a time to be alive – especially for those among us old enough to remember thinking that Microsoft online Office suite's nowadays mercilessly ridiculed and memefied Clippy was the most absurd and annoying – not to mention the most useless thing a software package could ever incorporate into its features.
But let's be honest – can Clippy – an animated image of a paperclip offering tips ranging from utterly irrelevant to offending its users' intelligence – even begin to compare with what the Redmond-based tech giant plans to do now?
And Microsoft's plan is this: inject an artificial intelligence (AI) powered tool into Microsoft Word, for the purpose of correcting nothing less than any perceived political incorrectness.
You read it right. The goal is to offer suggestions on how to improve your own work typed into Microsoft Word – while keeping in line with the arbitrarily-induced acceptable language – and perhaps more importantly – the acceptable thought standard.
As per Fast Company's sourcing – Microsoft will in the future underline words or phrases “that sound insensitive – and suggest corrections.”
According to the same source – this means that “the good news is that just as you can ask Word not to give you grammar suggestions, you can go into the settings and tell it not to monitor the correctness or sensitivity of your words.”
This is very vague – and dangerously sounding like an “opt-out” feature – namely, one still reserved for the nerd who is willing to go into the weeds of a software's options to configure it – instead of the “opt-in” default that would ensure most users would end up unaffected.
And in case you wondered how this potentially chilling and overreaching operation was organized – Microsoft said it had “a team of linguists and other experts” to make sure this effort turns out as expected.
From the referenced Fast Company article:
“Microsoft doesn’t call it a “political correctness check,” but that’s essentially what it is. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Actually Microsoft calls it “Ideas in Word,” which refers to a series of AI-driven features that help you format your document and write better.
For instance, Word will decode acronyms for you, and tell you how long it’ll take to read a given document. It’ll also underline words or phrases that sound insensitive, and suggest corrections.
Say you write, “We need to get some fresh blood in here.” The AI is likely to underline “fresh blood” and suggest “new employees” instead.
It might underline places where your writing exhibited gender bias. If you tend to say “mailman” or Congressman” in the generic, it might suggest you use “mailperson” or “Congressperson.” If you use the term “gentlemen’s agreement,” it may suggest you use “unspoken agreement” instead.”
But if the convergence of crack linguists – and that's a big if – working for Microsoft had anything to do with providing accurate and context-sensitive service – wouldn't Twitter have by now benefited from it by employing the currently largely embarrassing “translate” powered by Microsoft onto its platform?
All that being said – checking Word documents for political incorrectness is not the language Microsoft will use to describe this up-and-coming feature – in fact, Microsoft goes for the terminology that is nothing short of aspirational – “Ideas in Word.” Who wouldn't want that, right?
It would appear, though, that Microsoft Word, with this latest addition, might be that place where free and creative ideas go to die.
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