Google Ditches Sexist “Did You Mean”

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Once upon a time, if you typed “she invents,” Google tried to tell you it was “he invents.”  This applied to a lot of other queries, as well, and a number of people grew unhappy with these apparent examples of sexism.  Now Google’s programmers seem to have gone in and tweaked the engine, and “she” is allowed to invent things.

Google Ditches Sexist
Google Ditches Sexist “Did You Mean”
Google Ditches Sexist

After all, being accused of sexism isn’t good for a company’s reputation, regardless of whether the charges are true.  (As Valleywag’s Nick Denton interpreted an official Google statement, “It’s the world that’s sexist; we just index it.”)

And so, though it remains unclear what had to be done or undone, Google fine-tuned this aspect of its search engine.  “It might be Google engineers manually corrected this using a blacklist, or they advanced their algorithm to return more relevant spellcheckings for cases like these,” writes Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped.

Problem solved?  Not quite.  Lingering cases of insulting “did you mean” suggestions may still be out there, as Seth Finkelstein discovered.  His search for “she invent” returned a “did you mean” of “he inventt.”  But as Finkelstein asked, “Why is this significant?”

“Because ‘she’ is a common English word, ‘inveent’ is not a common English word, and the naive correction of ‘inveent’ to ‘invent’ should yield a suggestion of ‘she invent,’” he answered.  “But it seems to be doing some sort of statistical best-match for the phrase as a whole. . . .  [I]t shows it’s harder than it might appear to remove all aspects of structural bias (which is not to trivialize addressing an obvious case).”

Well, Google’s sexist “did you mean”s may not be entirely gone, but at least they’re on the way out.

Google Ditches Sexist “Did You Mean”
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