Google has been criticized for an “inclusive language” feature that will recommend word substitutions for people writing in Google Docs.
The tool will offer guidance to people writing in a way that “may not be inclusive to all readers” in a similar manner to spelling and grammar check systems.
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Whilst the suggestions are optional and can be turned off, critics have described it as “speech-policing” and “profoundly clumsy, creepy and wrong.” The language the system favours gender-neutral terms (e.g. “crewed” instead of “manned”) and against phrases that reflect racial prejudice (e.g. “deny list” instead of “blacklist”).
Other words which have been flagged up during the testing phase are “mankind,” “housewife,” “landlord” and even a computer “motherboard.”
Google states: “Potentially discriminatory or inappropriate language will be flagged, along with suggestions on how to make your writing more inclusive and appropriate for your audience.”
Vice News tested the feature by submitting several famous speeches and literary passages, including the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, and found most received bad recommendations. In the same test by Vice News, the programme was unable to find any alerts or warnings in a speech made by David Duke in which Vice News confirmed he made some racist comments.
Silkie Carlo, who is the director of Big Brother Watch, which campaigns for the protection of civil liberties, told The Telegraph: “Google’s new word warnings aren’t assistive, they’re deeply intrusive. With Google’s new assistive writing tool, the company is not only reading every word you type but telling you what to type.”
“This speech-policing is profoundly clumsy, creepy and wrong, often reinforcing bias. Invasive tech like this undermines privacy, freedom of expression and increasingly freedom of thought.”
Lazar Radic of the International Centre for Law and Economics told the newspaper: “Not only is this incredibly conceited and patronizing – it can also serve to stifle individuality, self-expression, experimentation, and – from a purely utilitarian perspective – progress.”