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Smart Systems: A Growing Nuisance

Ville Kokko

Posted on January 26, 2019 07:01

1 user

Machines and software that think they know what I want are not making my life any easier.

I finally got a "smart" phone not too long ago. One of the biggest differences to an old-style cell phone that I noticed right away was the autocorrect function. I could not type some perfectly legit words (or, often, longish Finnish word forms) in a message without having the device "correct" them. I had no way to type the word I wanted other than to type it, let it be corrected wrong, and then go back to revert it by hand.

At least there was a way to turn that function off, leaving only the much more helpful one where the device suggested words it guessed I wanted to type. Still, it only caused me extra trouble in the first place. Even figuring out how to turn it off was work.

Maybe some genius figured that statistically, I would make fewer errors that way even counting the incorrect corrections. But the "smart" errors tended to be worse; at least with ordinary typos, you can probably see it's a typo, instead of some confusing (or hilariously embarrassing) non sequitur word. Also, you're not forced to make the error.

Now, my phone still does that thing where it turns the image on the screen sideways for random non-reasons, but it takes me, well, longer than pressing a button would take to make it believe I actually want it turned.

Google used to be handy for finding stuff on the Internet (to say the least), but nowadays, it's getting increasingly useless. I was pretty much fine with it looking for words that were like the one I entered, but right now, there's a high chance it will return search results that omit one or more of the keywords I entered. And guess what? Those results are almost never what I want. There was a reason I entered the keywords I did.

(And of course Google has the option to put a word in quotes to make sure it's searched for. But that also means it has to be exactly in that form.)

"Smart" systems that think they know what you want are no good if they don't get it right. Even if they get it annoyingly wrong only a significant minority of the time, those annoyances may well negate the unnoticed convenience of when they get it right.

And it seems that we are trying too hard now. Judging from the amount of annoyance being caused, we should be making fewer things "smart" when we're just getting stupid results from the attempt.

Adding to the same annoyance load are systems that are not so much smart as selfish. They're not even trying to help you, but they have the same kind of effect of disrupting what you're doing by doing something you don't want. Think of pop-up windows on websites, or sites that foil your Google search by turning up as results when they're not, like online dictionaries that don't have the word you're looking for.

Ville Kokko

Posted on January 26, 2019 07:01

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