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Autocomplete

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First autocorrect removed every mistake from our text messages. Then came autocomplete, second-guessing what we type into our searches. Now machine learning is streamlining our email. Gmail’s Smart Compose tool tracks your writing style and offers to complete your sentences in the same tone. Smart Reply suggests chirpy responses: ‘Thanks!’, ‘Sounds good!’, ‘Awesome!’

The idea that artificial intelligence could learn to mimic our communication style was once seen as creepy. But sentence completion and instant replies save time, and millions embrace them: 10% of Gmail responses in 2018 were smart replies. Over-reliance brings hazards, though. Too many impersonal emails weaken business relationships. Click on the wrong reply option by accident? You may find yourself accepting a job you didn’t want or offending your boss.

An early prototype of Smart Reply offered "I love you" as a common answer option, forcing Google to tweak the algorithm. At least you won’t misgender anyone. Google blocked gender-based pronouns from Smart Compose after it kept getting them wrong. Such glaring errors will continue to recede as the technology gets smarter. The less we notice it, the more powerful it will be.

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Image credit: Piero Zagami and Michela Nicchiotti.

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