Google will nudge users to adopt gender-neutral language


I1990s N The Microsoft Word Clippy parody has become a bit of a trend in comics and magazines. As soon as you start writing “Dear …”, you’ll be popped up with an annoying clip-shaped figure before saying “It looks like you’re writing a letter” and giving any arbitrary advice, such as formatting.

Twenty years later, various automatic assistive features for writing sentences, such as spell checking and grammar check, have been significantly improved. Both of them utilize artificial intelligence rather than manually programming to be more discriminating and more delicate to operate. Many writers are grateful for their intervention.

But now, tech companies are stepping into more difficult areas. In 2020, Google’s internal style guide was updated to prevent developers from “unnecessarily gendered words” in their documentation. For example, a coder may discuss “man-hours” related to a project rather than mentioning “man-hours”. The guide’s author suggested that “all humanity” could be replaced by “all humanity.”

On May 18, the company announced that it was further promoting inclusive languages. Google Docs, a popular free word processing software, will soon keep people away from sexist language, such as the general use of “chairman.” Instead, it provides gender-neutral suggestions, including the “chairman.”

It’s right for tech companies to recognize the problem. Although not in the same category as misspellings and grammatical challenges, sexist biases originate through English and other languages. Consider that there is no female equivalent of a “master” who has no unpleasant secondary meaning. “Sluts” and “prostitutes” are different types of slurs and are rarely thrown by men.

However, Google’s target is the so-called general men. For a long time, English traditionalists have said that “men include women.” Under this rule, “everyone has their own opinion” is gender-neutral, and even a general chairman, air force, or firefighter is fine. (In other languages, mixed or unknown people are also called men.) However, using words such as “chairman” or “gender-neutral” he “is not truly gender-neutral. .. Reading those terms makes you much more likely to portray men than women.

In some European countries, feminists want a feminized title, so the female president of Spain is now “La President” instead of “El Presidente”. However, English-speaking feminists do not recommend, but rather paradoxically, certain feminized titles such as poets and actresses. And this solves the question of what to do with general directives. The language still tends to be masculine by default.

The solution in English is to prefer new titles, regardless of gender, such as “mail carrier” or “police officer.” But again, there are difficulties. Some titles look particularly ugly in this format. It seems that no one loves (and therefore wants to hire) a “chair person”, and while “chairs” are fine for some observers, others can’t see the other side of the furniture. .. There is further disagreement as to whether such a form should be universal or whether it is permissible to call a male officer a “police officer”.

In such a volatile situation, tech companies are on a difficult path. There is growing awareness that sexist languages ​​are a problem. At the same time, tech giants have become so powerful that they are making important policy decisions in their daily lives without sufficient clarity and insight into how those decisions were made. Believed.

All big companies are under pressure not only to sell widgets, but to deal with the hot button issue of the day. Attempting to please one voter often offends another. If you try to split the difference later, the first difference will be furious again. Companies that manufacture coffee machines and shoes are already facing these problems. When tech giants intervene in politics, their enormous influence effectively guarantees a backlash from one or another party.

There’s something tech companies can do for inclusiveness. At the same meeting where the language change was announced, Google said it would improve the treatment of black and brown skin on smartphone cameras. But the language agrees with the problem. The solution is less obvious, even among those who do.

This article was published in the printed books and arts section under the heading “The Great Leap of Mankind.”

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