What Grinds Our Gears: Autocomplete phrase suggestions

There’s more to communication than simply sharing ideas and information

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A collection of fridge magnets fill the photo. They have words printed on them. Some of the most visible ones are: wet, bug, explore, sorrow, torn, bed, wings, miss.
We have an entire language’s words to choose from; why use the ones given by a computer? PHOTO: Glen Carrie, Unsplash

By: Jacob Mattie, Opinions Editor

Autocomplete this, motherfuckers. 

Despite the various word processing platforms’ increasing propensity for prediction, there was no autocomplete suggestion to the above line — and understandably so. Autocomplete phrasing comes from the collection and comparison of similar text, and is widely supported on most digital platforms, be that on Google Docs, Outlook, or your favourite messaging service. I doubt this opening phrase has been used often.

The immediate result of text prediction is that the most commonly-used phrases become even more commonly used, and interesting language — the words and phrases that we ourselves choose — get lost for the averages. That’s not to say every sentence should be written with funky, unexpected language. Commonly used phrases are commonly used for a reason: they’re quick, understandable, and direct. 

The issue with autocorrect is in how upfront it is. Often midway through writing a sentence, it’ll jump in — were you intending to write “have a nice day?” Well yes, I was aiming for something along those lines. But now that phrase is in my head, I’ve lost my initial train of thought, and feel inclined to write exactly that — “have a nice day.”

The worst part of autocomplete suggestions is that they’re technically great completions. They fit well with the prior phrasing, and are exactly what one would expect to follow. How do we compete with the pleasantly sterile phrasing of an autocomplete? We can’t! All the markers of personality that come from having to write around that one word you can’t quite remember, or the clumsiness of a phrase written amidst dozens of real-life distractions — they’re all lost in a suggestion and a press of a button. 

There’s more to communication than being efficient in the sharing of information. It’s the reason we attend lectures rather than just reading the textbooks — we communicate for the sake of interacting with other people. The presence of autocomplete phrasing in our online interactions takes this away from us. We get enough interaction with aritifical intelligencethrough websites and feeds as is; let’s at least keep our messaging human.