Critics have described the company’s policy as “speech-policing” and “creepy”. “Housewife” and even a computer “motherboard” have been flagged as not being inclusive by the new system.
Google has been criticised for an “inclusive language” feature that will recommend word substitutions for people writing in Google Docs.
The tool will offer guidance to people writing in a way that “may not be inclusive to all readers” in a similar manner to spelling and grammar check systems.
Although the suggestions are just suggestions – they aren’t forced on writers and the tool may be turned off – critics have described it as “speech-policing” and “profoundly clumsy, creepy and wrong”.
The new feature is officially called assistive writing and will be on by default for enterprise users, business customers who might want to nudge particular writing styles among their staff.
The language the system favours reflects decades of campaigning for gender-neutral terms (“crewed” instead of “manned”) and against phrases that reflect racial prejudice (“deny list” instead of “blacklist”), as well as more modern concerns about the impact of our vocabulary on how we identify people.
But despite enormous developments in how computers understand natural language, the technology is still in its infancy.
Among the words that the system has flagged in tests are “mankind”, “housewife”, “landlord” and even a computer “motherboard” – which may not cause offence.