Tech companies are often busy catching up with each other.
“Look what they’ve done! We have to do the same or our very walls will collapse around us!”
No, I’m not specifically referring to Facebook here.
In fact, I’m marveling at the latest little snippet to emerge from the constantly evolving Microsoft.
As my colleague Liam Tung reported, Redmond is introducing Text Predictions in Word for Windows. Because humans can’t be bothered to type whole words anymore.
They need to have an artificial brain sitting on their keyboard like a wise, lonely cat, ready to get ahead of translating their thoughts into words.
Microsoft’s move mimics that of Google which has already injected its Smart Compose for Google Docs in G Suite, as well as, oh, planting the dreaded autocorrect to Google Docs on the web.
Naturally, my first reaction was to delight that I use Word on Mac rather than Windows and to pray to my wine supply — hey, we all have to believe in something — that these Text Predictions fail to come to my constantly tired MacBook Air. (Which, according to a Best Buy salesman, is the best Windows laptop.)
But then I lurched toward the Microsoft 365 Product Roadmap for this update and found myself staring for a long time.
Here’s what it says: “Text Predictions in Word for Windows helps users write more efficiently by predicting text quickly, timely and accurately.”
I wonder if you see what I see.
You see, what I see is that this little description may have been written by a machine with a special grasp of the English language.
I feel a certain dissonance in the phrase: “helps users write more efficiently by predicting text quickly, timely and accurately.”
Can you predict anything timely? Well, I can predict that the world will end soon, which some may find enormously timely.
I predict, however, that what this phrase was trying to communicate may have been something like “in a timely manner.” Ergo, I want to autocorrect it.
Now if I’m right — and hey, I’m only a human and not an advanced machine — the idea that the grammar of that phrase may border on the painfully hideous and erroneous may impact the power of the word that follows “timely and”: accurately.
So here’s Microsoft telling you it’ll take some wordy burden from your fatigued brain by trying to type gibberwocky — I just made up that word — on your behalf.
And on top of that, every time this predictor is wrong, you have to hit the Esc key. This would be like being on a game show and having your finger on the buzzer all the time. While you write to your mom.
Have I gone full Dr. Pedant? Oh, perhaps. But I only tolerate autocorrect on my phone because the messages are short. And I know I can quickly send another message to correct the halfwitted howlers that autocorrect regularly perpetrates without my instantly noticing.
But if I’m writing something in Word, something that may have a lot of words — this happens to me — I really wouldn’t like Microsoft to go all Mystic Meg on my screen. It wouldn’t make my work happen in a timely manner.
Entirely full disclosure: Microsoft already tried something like this in Outlook. I found it hideous and switched it off, so one can only hope this latest predictive dictation can be similarly muted.
If you’re still playing along with me, let’s go full Dr. Pedant. This part of Microsoft’s description also worries me: “Text Predictions in Word for Windows helps users write more efficiently.”
Shouldn’t that be “Text Predictions in Word for Windows help users write more efficiently”? Predictions are plural, more often than not.
Now I’m partial to some plurals having a singular verb. Having grown up in the Disunited Kingdom, one would never suggest a football (saacker) team was singular. Sample: “Spurs are playing well. Manchester City are playing better because their coach is better.”
The US is much more prickly about such laxity. It’s always “Manchester City is playing well.”
I confess, too, that I’ve never met another human who’s mumbled while writing: “I wish a robot could predict what I’m going to write next.” Perhaps I need to get out more.
Microsoft has good ideas and ones that are less appealing. I’ll certainly try the company’s new Transform feature that turns a Word document into a PowerPoint presentation. That sounds like something that would be truly helpful.
Ultimately, though, if the mere description of a service is already annoying you, perhaps using that service will have an exponentially negative effect.
Just a thought, you understand. Hopefully, a timely thought.