Google has revised its “Smart Compose” technology to avoid the icebergs that gender-based pronouns have become.
The technology routinely suggests what a Gmail writer might want to say next.
However, Google realized a few months ago that the technology did not conform to the sensibilities of the transgender era, Reuters reported.
Although various autocorrect mistakes have become both an embarrassment and an amusement in the era of smartphones, Google thought this was not something it wanted to deal with.
“Not all ‘screw ups’ are equal,” Gmail product manager Paul Lambert said. Gender is a “a big, big thing” to get wrong.
Lambert said that the issue came to the fore in January when a Google employee noticed that when Smart Compose offered a suggestion, it used the male pronoun.
The employee typed “I am meeting an investor next week.” Smart Compose suggested the next sentence read, “Do you want to meet him?”
Lambert said that Smart Compose was reflecting the fact that historically business and finance was male-dominated, and so it used a male pronoun instead of a female one.
‘Google’s technology will not suggest gender-based pronouns because the risk is too high that its “Smart Compose” technology might predict someone’s sex or gender identity incorrectly and offend users…’
People take themselves too seriously.
Especially me. https://t.co/tehixsM1Pp
— Quail (@312pigsofwar) November 27, 2018
Product leaders did not want to risk the technology offending users by incorrectly predicting their gender or identity, according to Reuters.
Lambert said a team of about 15 engineers and designers tried various options, but none were foolproof. So, they decided not to deal with the issue at all.
In its reporting on the change, the website Endgadget noted, “The move isn’t surprising given Google’s attempts to be more inclusive of women and the LGBTQ community.”
Lambert said users may not even notice, because the elimination of gendered pronouns only impacts about 1 percent of Smart Compose’s suggestions.
“The only reliable technique we have is to be conservative,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, who formerly oversaw engineering of.
Gender pronouns also were eliminated from Google’s Smart Reply, in which Gmail suggests short responses users can send.
On Google’s support page explaining how Smart Compose works, it admits that the technology might reflect bias.
“As language understanding models use billions of common phrases and sentences to automatically learn about the world, they can also reflect human cognitive biases. Being aware of this is a good start, and the conversation around how to handle it is ongoing. Google is committed to making products that work well for everyone, and are actively researching unintended bias and mitigation strategies,” Google said on the page.
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