Saturday, June 15, 2024

War against autocorrect: What is UK’s ‘I am not a Typo’ campaign?

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‘I Am Not A Typo’ is now urging tech giants to update their dictionaries and make them ‘less white-focused’. @Iamnotatypo

‘Drutee’, ‘Dirty’, and ‘Dorito’: These are just a few versions that Dhruti Shah, a journalist in UK, frequently encounters when typing her name on a phone or computer.

“It’s frustrating. Like why is a commercial brand of tortilla chips considered more important than my name?” Shah expressed her anguish on CBC’s news podcast, As It Happens.

Dhruti, is not alone, this persistent misinterpretation of many non-Western names by autocorrect algorithms has become a headache among the UK’s diverse communities.

The campaign called ‘I am not a Typo’ is now urging tech giants to correct the autocorrect and make it “less white-focused”.

How did the matter unfold? Let’s take a closer look

Savan turns to Satan

Savan-Chandni Gandecha, a 34-year-old British Indian content creator is one of the victims of autocorrect. Savan said he is irked by the feature as it changes his name to ‘Savant’ and even worse- ‘Satan’.

“It’s time for tech companies to fix this!” This push for improvement aims to ensure autocorrect respects the intended language, not just blindly Anglicise everything,” he was quoted as saying in The Guardian.

He further added, “My name has been autocorrected to Savant, Savan, or even stripped of its hyphen, which irks me. Even in India, it becomes ‘Sawan.’ It’s not just an English issue; it’s multi-lingual.”

The campaign’s research estimated that four out of 10 names of babies born in England and Wales in 2021 were deemed “wrong” or “not accepted” when tested on Microsoft’s English dictionary, particularly those with Indian, African, Welsh, and Irish identities.

Numerous text software, ranging from Microsoft Word to smartphone apps, feature an autocorrect function that suggests corrections for words it deems misspelled. Some programs underline suspected errors with a red line, while others automatically alter the word to what they assume the user intended to write.

The campaign’s research estimated that four out of 10 names of babies born in England and Wales in 2021 were deemed ‘wrong’ or ’not accepted’ by Microsoft’s English dictionary. Image for Representation/ Pixabay

Dhruti who is supporting the campaign wrote on its website, “My first name isn’t even that long – only six characters – but yet when it comes up as an error or it’s mangled and considered an unknown entity, it’s like saying that it’s not just your name that’s wrong, but you are.”

A professor at Northeastern University in the US, Rashmi Dyal-Chand, often finds her name autocorrected to ‘Rush me’ and ‘Sashimi’ while writing an email said, “The autocorrect incorrectly changes the name I have typed, I feel responsible and I email back to apologise. Autocorrect communicates for me that I don’t care, or I’m thoughtless, or I don’t respect the person I’m writing enough to get their name right.”

She has backed the latest campaign, “For people with names like mine, autocorrect is not convenient and helpful. It is unhelpful. And yes – it is harmful,” she wrote on the website.

Dyal-Chand emphasised that the assumption that non-white names are incorrect creates a barrier, making technology more cumbersome for racialised people to use. It leads to “cultural devaluation of non-Anglo individuals and communities,” she argued.

A call for tech giants

The campaign group, formed by individuals in the creative industries in London, has written an open letter to technology companies, urging them to “update their dictionaries so everyone’s names are treated equally.”

It pointed out that between 2017 and 2021, 2,328 people named Esmae were born, compared with 36 Nigels. Esmae gets autocorrected to Admar, while Nigel is unchanged.

“There are so many diverse names in the global majority but autocorrect is western- and white-focused,” Gandecha said.

The letter mentions non-English names, such as Zarah, Priti, Matei, Rafe, Ayda, Ruaridh, Eesa and Otillie that are marked with a red zig-zag line, suggesting that they are incorrect.

Last year, People Like Us, a non-profit organisation, ran a billboard campaign highlighting autocorrect bias in favour of British heritage and linked the issue to the ethnicity pay gap.

Karen Fox, whose children are named Eoin and Niamh, expressed her frustration with autocorrect: “The red line bothers me – I didn’t choose the ‘wrong’ name for my child. Tech companies update dictionaries with slang all the time, so this should be an easy task and definitely a priority.”

“Our children should not be othered by the technology that is integral to their lives. And it’s up to the arbiters of that technology to fix it,” the letter mentioned.

Randy Goebel, a professor of computing science at the University of Alberta, told CBC News that solution to the problem is “simple” as tech companies could add names to their dictionaries, “But as far as I can tell, the urgency of the consequences haven’t landed”, Goebel added.

With input from agencies

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