You may have read recently that Microsoft is rolling out a version of Word which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to edit your work for errors…and insensitivity.
The ‘Ideas in Word’ program highlights phrases and words it deems potentially insensitive and suggests alternatives.
So if you want to write:
Congressman Withers suspended the meeting
Ideas in Word might gently suggest that you change it to:
Congressperson Withers suspended the meeting
Because one of the red flags programmed into its scary mechanical ‘brain’ is gender bias.
Other potentially inflammatory things it will search through your text for include:
- “Sensitive geopolitical references”
If Ideas in Word gives you the creeps, you’re not alone. I got chills when it popped up on my newsfeed.
Why? Because there’s not a writer alive who would benefit from a nagging, politically correct, robot editor looking over their shoulder at every line.
Leaving aside the notion that we need to be protected from words like ‘Congressman’ (that’s a whole post in itself), this isn’t an editing tool. It’s a bludgeon against creativity, hammering out voice, personality and all those other unique ingredients that make your writing your own.
But it does spark an interesting debate – does technology help or hinder your writing? What digital tools are you using, and how far are you prepared to go down that road?
Despite my squeamishness over AI censors, I can’t be a hypocrite. The internet was a decade old when I started my career and everyone who works in media knows that you can’t pay the bills unless you keep up with its evolution.
From browsing social media platforms for research, to becoming familiar with a baffling volume of acronyms (SEO, CMS, CTR) – journalists have to be very comfortable with both established technology and emerging trends.
But has the technology outpaced us? Are human writers in danger of becoming obsolete?
The debate around technology and writing has so far been framed in terms of peaceful coexistence, with digital advocates claiming that new tools on the market are designed to help journalists. If you’re paying attention, you’ve probably seen a rash of headlines like this:
- Improve Your Writing With AI Smarts
- Using AI to Redefine Journalism
- How Augmented Reality Can End The Era of Fake News
While there’s some merit to the above examples, and AI has been a powerful tool in the fight against misinformation, it is swiftly going beyond these parameters.
Spell check telling me that I’ve put too many ‘t’s in tantalizing is helpful. A text editor suggesting that my writing is geopolitically insensitive, not so much.
Ideas in Word isn’t the first tech to police writing, and it won’t be the last. Robot editors are the future; pity they so closely resemble censorship.
Note: this is a huge topic, and one that I can’t do justice in a single post. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s some extra credit reading:
- What is the Future of Journalism in the Digital World?
- 7 Challenges for AI in Journalism
- What News-Writing Bots Mean for the Future of Journalism