Thanks for stopping by! If you like what you read, tell your friends! If you don't like what you read, tell your enemies! Either way, please post a comment, even if it's just to tell us how much we suck! (We're really needy!) You can even follow us @JasonBerner! Or don't! See if we care!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Lazy Scholar's Friend (and I Don't Mean Wikipedia)

Writer Evgeny Morozov has a problem with autocomplete, the feature of Google and other sites that utilizes an algorithm to "guess" what you're looking for before you finish typing, and then fills in the rest of the word(s) for you.  In today's Times, Morozov specifically laments the "prudishness" of Google's algorithm, which refuses, for example, to autocomplete such potentially controversial terms as "Lolita" or "Swastika." (I must say though, I'm intrigued by the fact that the censoring mechanism apparently looks not only for pornography but also for intolerance.  Not sure whether this is good or bad, but it is intriguing.)

I, too, have a problem with autocomplete, not so much because of its selectivity as because of other shortcomings.  First, there are unintended consequences, such as the accidental e-mail (alluded to in today's column by Frank Bruni).  Fans of "The Newsroom" will recall MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) e-mailing Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) about her intention to come clean about secrets from their past, only to discover that--thanks to autocomplete--she has accidentally sent this e-mail to approximately 100,000 people.  By the way, that's also EXACTLY how WOS discovered my secret crush on Janeane Garofalo. (But I SWEAR it's only because it's fun to say "Garofalo"!)

The other problem I have with autocomplete is that it encourages laziness.  Maybe it's just because I'm a fairly fast typist, but generally I can finish typing whatever word or words I want to search for in about the same amount of time as it takes autocomplete to make suggestions.  For example, say I want to Google the President.  Autocomplete fills in "Obama" as soon as one types the letters "Ob."  But by the time "Obama" appears in the pull-down list, I've already struck the "a" and am well on my way to "m."  And even if you're not that quick, how lazy do you have to be to consider typing three extra letters onerous?  If it's worth searching for, it's worth typing.  Let your fingers do the Googling!

No comments:

Post a Comment