How smart is Smart Compose?

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a recent NY Times article about something called Smart Compose…

A few weeks ago my computer started suggesting text for my emails. I’d be typing a line like “I’d be happy …” and the computer would add — without any promping from me — “…to meet you next week.” The text would be rendered in grey and I’d have to use the tab key to “accept” the new words. (Interesting that I figured this out in less than a nanosecond, with no instruction.)

Last week, in reading a New York Times article headlined “You Already Email Like a Robot — Why Not Automate It?” I learned that this feature is called Smart Compose. It’s a form of Artificial Intelligence.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about AI inserting itself into my email. It’s nice to be able to save my RSI-stressed wrists from unnecessary typing, but it’s also vaguely creepy that a machine can predict what I want to write.

As NYT writer John Herrman put it:

Using these features is a bit like minding a machine that is trying to learn how to do what you do for a living. And even if it’s the part of the job you wish you didn’t have to do, it still prompts uncomfortable thoughts of replacement — or, if not replacement, then something close to it. It is not remotely implausible that in the near future, a tremendous amount of communication could be conducted in tandem with A.I.

I don’t have nearly the same hesitation about the software Text Expander, which I use to preprogram bits of text I use regularly. (For example, rather than write out my troublesome email address each time I need to cite it, I type ‘myemail’ and the software inserts the 23 letters without any more help.) The difference is that I’ve made the decision to do it myself.

But I guess, like many other aspects of technologial creep, I’ll slowly become accustomed to Smart Compose and get angry about it only when they try take it away….