Oh, autocorrect. It’s a double-edged sword… sometimes it saves your assume, other times it makes you look like a follicle.
(Don’t worry – in the interest of making this article readable, we’ll stop there with the autocorrect jokes.)
Autocorrect, as you’re likely aware, is the artificial intelligence tool built into our smartphones, word processors, and most other text-based communication tools.
It’s responsible for some hilarious fails…
…but aside from the silly mistakes, autocorrect is actually an incredibly powerful piece of technology – and it’s older than you might think!
In today’s edition of Innovations Explained, we’ll explore the fascinating history of autocorrect, along with taking a quick look at how it actually works. Let’s go!
First: What is autocorrect, exactly?
Autocorrect is a type of program that automatically checks your text and offers suggestions to fix spelling and grammar mistakes.
There are all sorts of autocorrect programs, and the majority are included within other software – like Microsoft Word or your smartphone’s keyboard.
While all autocorrect programs work slightly differently, they’re all based on the same concept: they “read” the text while checking a glossary.
No… this doesn’t mean they’re actually reading your private messages. To put it simply, they compare the words and sentences you type with a dictionary of “known” words and sentences.
If you type a word that doesn’t appear in its glossary, it will react by either highlighting the word or automatically changing it for you.
When was autocorrect invented?
Did you know? The earliest forms of autocorrect have been around for about as long as the personal computer – more than 50 years!
In the early days, autocorrect programs were very basic. They could only check for spelling errors, and you had to “activate” the spell check – it didn’t work in real time.
These days, most autocorrect programs work as you type, and they’re smart enough to catch grammatical errors – not just typos.
The first of these “real-time” autocorrect programs was included in Microsoft Word. Like modern autocorrect programs, its glossary could be edited – so if you wanted, you could have your computer automatically change “dog” to “cat”. (As you can imagine, there were far more nefarious applications for this… leading to some hilarious pranks on the unaware.)
Autocorrect programs have also become much more sophisticated lately, spreading to all written languages and even accounting for slang. But naturally, that doesn’t mean they’re always right…
Why does autocorrect get things wrong (and how can I fix it)?
So-called “autocorrect fails” have become a part of modern life – so much so that we hardly worry about them any more.
However, you may have noticed that your phone seems to take on a particular personality after a while. Maybe it starts speaking French. Or perhaps it starts calling your husband Bob “Bobsled”… or decides that “grocery store” needs to be capitalized. We’ve all been there!
Fun fact: Autocorrect fails were originally called the “Cupertino effect”. This is because the headquarters of Apple is based in Cupertino, and early programs had an unusual affinity for the word – often replacing “cooperation” with “Cupertino”.
The culprit behind these consistent fails should actually be familiar to you: it’s machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence.
Because our language is constantly evolving, and everyone uses it differently, autocorrect needs to keep evolving with it. Autocorrect “learns” your individual preferences over time by paying attention to the way you use language, allowing it to do a better job.
Every autocorrect program does this slightly differently – but typically, the program watches when you accept its suggestions and when you manually correct it.
For example, let’s say you wanted to say “Bob’s home.” However, when you typed “Bobs”, your phone autocorrected it to “Bobsled” without you noticing. When you send the message, your autocorrect program takes that as a sign of approval and wrongfully pats itself on the back.
Shame on you, autocorrect! Wat have you ever done four us? We’re turning you of!
So, you’re sick of autocorrect (and Bobsled’s getting angry). If you reeeeally want to turn it off, you usually can. Below you’ll find links to walkthroughs for Android and iPhone.
That’s all for today! We hope you enjoyed learning about autocorrect, and thanks for putting up with our jokes (we’re done, we pormise.) Now it’s your turn! What was your biggest autocorrect fail? Leave a comment below!