Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How your devices guide you in the language that you use - and what this means

In a post last month in my tymshft blog, I described how the marriage of personal data and advertisements could unconsciously guide your actions. In my example, taken from Evgeny Morozov, a person suddenly starts executing a number of searches about vegetarianism...and then suddenly sees a bunch of ads showing discounts for meat products. The person eventually concludes that vegetarianism is not fulfilling...after a little guidance.

But guidance can be provided in a number of ways...sometimes unintentionally, with unforeseen consequences.

There is an entire website called Damn You Autocorrect that shows how the autocorrect feature on mobile phones can yield embarrassing results. It's often hard to enter text on mobile phones, so autocorrect sometimes helps you - in ways that you may not expect.

But there's a solution for this - just make sure that the embarrassing words don't come up in autocorrect, and the problem is solved.

How do you make sure that the embarrassing words don't come up? According to Jon Christian, you just embed the bad words in the Android source code.

But what if your set of banned words is different from the Android programmer's list of bad words? Ah, there's the problem.

As Christian and others have noted, the words in the list include the following:


So if you're a Muslim medical techie, I guess you're supposed to get an iPhone.

But Christian notes that dictionaries, in the end, are political instruments:

As others have pointed out, words included in any dictionary, digital and otherwise, can quickly become a political issue. Anti-bullying advocacy group Grin Campaign successfully lobbied the Oxford English Dictionary and Microsoft Office to include the word “transphobia” in future editions, and during the runup to the 2008 presidential election, New York Times blogger David Pogue pointed out that many versions of Microsoft Office still did not recognize the name “Obama” (though an updated word list was available at the time as a patch).

Of course, if an online dictionary excludes the word "triune," I'll declare a holy war.
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