Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Certain smart phones are demonstrably awful at autocorrection. Considering that in 2009, 1.5 trillion text messages were sent in the U.S. alone, this is more than just an annoyance, it’s a menace to productivity.

After Spark Capital VC fund principal Andrew Parker’s iPhone auto-corrected Harvard to garbage, Carnegie Mellon doctoral student in machine learning Brendan O’Connor speculated that one way to fix autocorrection on an iPhone would be to add a language model to iOS that would be gigantic enough to know the difference. As in, a language model that could take up gigabytes of the phone’s storage.

Language models try to figure out, based on what you’ve already written, what word you’ll write next. They’re far larger than a normal dictionary – they have to contain the zillions of possible combinations of words that might appear in typical usage.

O’connor guessed that the iPhone thinks that “Harvard” equals “garbage” because the distance between every character in Harvard is close to every character in ‘garbage,’ when laid out on a QWERTY keyboard.

Google’s autocorrect, which is quite a bit better than Apple’s, seems to work by watching what users change a word to, and then feeding that information into a leaning algorithm, opines one of O’connor’s commenters. Another pointed out that the “real problem” with Apple’s keyboard is that it’s not personalized – it doesn’t learn from the words that a user prefers.

The bottom line is that autocorrect doesn’t have to be awful. But perhaps Steve Jobs doesn’t send many texts, so it’s one of those areas of development at Apple that are (in)famously neglected because they don’t affect El Jobso directly.

5 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Computing, Google, Apple, iPhone, Android, language

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me