People do grammar bad. Google’s AI is hear too help.

People do grammar bad. Google’s AI is hear too help.
Grammar is dead. Long live grammar-check?
By Marie C. Baca
Aug 26 2019

There, their, they’re.

If you stumble over your grammar, take comfort in this: Tech companies are supercharging their digital grammar editors with artificial intelligence and machine learning in an attempt to make clear, persuasive writing easier than ever.

Google became the latest to enter the game last week, when the tech giant announced it would be adding an artificial intelligence-powered tool that offersautomatic detection of grammar mistakes while composing messages in Gmail, as well as auto-correction of some common spelling mistakes. The company introduced a similar AI-driven function to documents in G Suite earlier this year.

While some education experts applaud the advancement of high-tech grammar tools as a way to help people more clearly express their thoughts, others aren’t so sure. Artificial intelligence, according to the contrarians, is only as smart as the humans who program it, and often just as biased.

“Language is part of your heritage and identity, and if you’re using a tool that is constantly telling you, ‘You’re wrong,’ that is not a good thing,” said Paulo Blikstein, associate professor of communications, media and learning technology design at Columbia University Teachers College. “There is not one mythical, monolithical (English) … And every time we have tried to curtail the evolution of a language, it has never gone well.”

Tech giants have long touted the significance of artificial intelligence, promising a sci-fi-like future where everything is controlled by all-knowing machines. Google, Apple and Amazon all have their own AI-assistants, which can answer questions, tell jokes, set timers and help with the shopping. Tesla’s electric vehicles can run on “Autopilot,” which can guide cars on highways. Doctors are using AI to help make diagnoses.

But the technology is also trickling down to more mundane tasks, often nearly invisible: That customer service agent you’re chatting with might be a bot, and your search results were likely influenced by what the tech giants know about you.

The increasing use of AI comes with some inherent risks, according to the people who study it. Sometimes it’s not able to understand or gets requests wrong.

That was made clear in a study by The Washington Post and researchers, which tested tens of thousands of voice commands given to Amazon Echo and Google Home devices and found notable disparities in how people from different parts of the U.S. are understood. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)

When it comes to AI-corrected grammar, Google’s Gmail update underlines incorrect grammar with a blue squiggly line while the user composes an email. Clicking on the word in question reveals Google’s grammar suggestions. Microsoft introduced a machine learning-based editor pane to Office 365 users two years ago, while online tool Grammarly is a decade old, has over 20 million active users and recently rolled out a slew of new functions including grammar suggestions tailored to the tone of the piece the user is writing, according to the company.

Grammar editing tools aren’t new — just ask Microsoft’s much-maligned digital assistant Clippy — but the technology behind them is growing increasingly complex.

Grammarly said it uses a hybrid approach to build its algorithms, one that combines a variety of natural language processing methods, including machine learning, deep learning, and custom-made rules, among others. In a recent Medium post, Grammarly research scientists discussed using statistical patterns inherent in a language (“the” typically does not follow another “the,” for example) to distinguish between correct and incorrect language.

Grammarly CEO Brad Hoover said his company’s product was originally expected to be aimed at college students, and more than 1,000 educational institutions currently license Grammarly for their classrooms. “Our writing assistant is a coach, not a crutch,” Hoover said in an email.


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