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Friday, September 10, 2010

No predicting the future

Personally, I rely on predictive text a lot when I am sending texts on my mobile phone but it can lead to some unintentional clangers. I am not so sure though about the latest innovations from Google.

They have launched two services that aim to suggest what we might be about to think next. Google Scribe tries to complete sentences via a pop-up menu of likely options, while Google Instant transforms the process of searching the web, with pages of results changing automatically as we type:

Scribe is one of many tools that has emerged from the research wing Google Labs (see box), and while it is interesting from a linguistics point of view, it is more of a diverting toy than a usable tool. As you type, you can choose (or not) from a numbered selection of words most likely to come next, based on the massive corpus of sentences that has been harvested from the web by Google.

Scribe's reliance on web text becomes clear when you start with "The" and use the first suggested option for each subsequent word. The experiment produces a phrase common on YouTube: "The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive."

Using Scribe feels like a logical extension of predictive texting on mobile phones, and that is undoubtedly the platform where it will eventually prove its worth. But on a computer it does nothing to speed up typing; as one early user commented, it's as if someone is constantly interrupting you to try to finish your sentences, and always getting it wrong.

Speedy operation, by contrast, is the whole raison d'etre of Google Instant. The service was unleashed without warning on google.com and google.co.uk on Wednesday, causing surprise among users when results popped up a lot quicker than usual.

It will never catch on.
This is completely off topic, but an extraordinary event occurred yesterday.

The Navajo Nation and America lost a great warrior with the passing of "one of the 29" Navajo Code Talkers.

The real-life story of the Navajo Nation Code Talkers is one of the most moving and endearing threads in recent American history. I never heard of them until I took up a job offer in downtown Chicago (“Chicago” being a derivative of a Native American word), but I was instantly smitten. This brave nation helped save many American lives.

The whole story of the Indian Nations is a very sad one - if any of you visit the USA try and visit one of the Native Indian/American museums.

So many languages, so many cultures, so much lost.

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