Do you know what you really want? Right now, there are computers all over the world busily trying to tell you the answer – often before you know yourself.
If you’ve bought books or music on Amazon, watched a film on Netflix or even typed a text message, then these mind-reading machines may have steered you to that choice by making recommendations. These predictive algorithms work by finding patterns in our previous behaviour and making inferences about our future desires – and they are everywhere.
These algorithmic mind readers are now turning to a new task: anticipating what you’re going to type next. It’s autocorrect on steroids, and promises to shape our behaviour in unexpected ways. What will happen to communication when algorithms offer to speak for us?
When it comes to writing, we’ve become increasingly dependent on autocorrect and autocomplete technology to identify typos and misspelled words, predict replacements, and suggest subsequent words or search terms. When it works well, we hardly give it any thought. It recedes to the background like an invisible fairy godproofreader who is “always reading over our shoulders.”
Last year, Apple introduced what it described as the next stage in this technology: QuickType, which is supposed to predict “what you’re likely to say next. No matter whom you’re saying it to.” Apple is so pleased with the product it says the tool yields “perfect suggestions.”