Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How to Fix Awful Smart-Phone Autocorrection

Are you ready to give up gigabytes of phone storage for a language model of sufficient power?

  • May 31, 2011

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.

Keep up with the latest in Apple at EmTech Digital.

The Countdown has begun.
March 25-26, 2019
San Francisco, CA

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to MIT Technology Review.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.