In what I’ll characterize as AI run amok, this past spring Gmail (Google, that is) snuck in a little auto-suggest module (called ‘Smart Compose’) ostensibly to help compromised Gmail users—I mean, what other explanation is there, gentle reader? I understand the temptation to do this: so many folks these days struggle to cobble together a sentence using the King’s English, never mind write a cogent letter or essay, so a tool like this has the potential to help ‘em out a bit, I suppose. And for others I guess the convenience factor makes it worthwhile.
I frankly find it maddening, like spelling autocorrect, the bothersome gnat I can’t seem to swat away when I simply need to compose a quick text, or answer one. So settle down there, Google: I got this, rest assured.
In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, I’ll lean on John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney’s Dear Prudence lyrics (© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC) to ‘splain you. The struck-through typeface is what Gmail/Google assumed John and Paul (speaking through my typing) meant to say:
Won’t you come out to play? Dear Prudence, great to hear from you greet the brand new day. The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful (<—the algorithm got that one right, at least) and so are you. Dear Prudential (huh?) Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, open up your eyes. Dear Prudential Prudence, see the sunny skies. The wind is low, the birds will sing that you are part of everything. Dear Prudential Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?
Look around, round, look around round round, look around. (Didn’t see that coming, did ya Smart Compose?)
Dear Prudential Prudence, let me see you smile. Dear Prudence, like a little child.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play? Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day. The sun is shining (?) up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you. Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
John and Paul
It is possible that John and Paul might actually sign off, ‘Sincerely yours,’ although in his letter to Her Majesty, the Queen of England, in which he explained why he was rejecting knighthood, John signed off, ‘With Love, John Lennon of Bag.’ Not Paul: he was all about that knightly swag. (Hey: maybe that’s the real point of consternation that finally took down the Beatles. Huh.)
But I digress.
Meanwhile, back to ‘Smart’ Compose. (I need not point out the irony of that, but there it is.) In my experiment with ‘Dear Prudence’ I was curious to see whether Smart Compose was at least smart enough to ‘learn’ what I actually wanted to say and stop trying to force the issue. But as you can see, there was a certain randomness to whether it wanted me to say ‘Prudential’ or was happy to give me my Prudence. Also, in the first instance of typing ‘the sun is up,’ it did not attempt to insinuate ‘shining’ into the equation, as it did later, near the end of my letter. Not only did Smart Compose not learn anything, it was also a little slow on the uptake.
Aside from obliterating what remains of any desire to think for oneself, I submit Smart Compose is doing us—we humans, collectively—a terrible disservice. I foresee a dystopic landscape in which generations of people will be powerless to communicate with one another unless they are attached to a device which can complete their thoughts for them: put words in their mouths. I think about this notion each time I climb aboard my groovy new car with a groovy backup camera, tempted as I am to allow the camera to do the work for my own eyeballs. Before you know it, somebody will come up with a completely autonomous car and the human race will devolve into a bunch of mindless lemmings content to let devices do, well, everything.
But seriously, another excellent argument against Smart Compose is covering up the shortcomings of certain persons whose shortcomings maybe we should know about. And if you don’t believe me, I covfefe you to reflect on that for a while.
As a postscript to my experimental ‘Dear Prudence’ email, I added this line at the end: Please stop putting words in my…. And Smart Compose had the audacity to supply (you guessed it), mouth.