Ever get the feeling that your phone knows you a little too well? Or that the internet is inside your head? You’re not alone. Predictive text is everywhere and on every device we touch. No need to type out a whole word, just a few taps and a sentence is complete. But what effects could this cool tool be having? Studies are continually being done to find out what sort of impact these technologies are having on our brains, and the results are quite surprising.
How do our brains write?
Our brains are constantly using their own form of prediction in relation to the world around us. This is how we decipher noise into words. When we write or type our brains use a complex coordination of cognitive processing. This includes the use of the semantic system, working memory, long-term memory, and planning. Subcontracting these mental processes to an algorithm could have profound implications.
Why do we have predictive text?
It is estimated the 281 billion emails are sent every day. That’s a lot of typing! And this figure does not include status updates, posts, and general everyday chatting and texting. Having predictive text has been a massive time saver.
How does predictive text work?
There are several types of predictive text, all of which use complex AI algorithms to learn from the way we type and what words we use in which order. Not just on our phones, but even on our desktops too. Some email platforms are powered by a form of AI known as “natural language processing” and will offer to complete an entire sentence as you start typing. While this feature does save time when composing an email, many have said that AI’s ability to come up with perfectly suitable sentences just feels weird.
Is letting this technology take over what we say to friends and family robbing us of our individuality and human interaction? After all, this is one of the very things that make us human. Research suggests that putting less effort into a behavior makes us feel less responsible for the effects. Predicted responses can create distance between us and the respondent because the response is not genuine.
Studies have also shown that heavy users of predictive text have some difficulty spelling correctly when having to write out words. This effect is so prevalent that China even has a word for it. It translates to “character amnesia.” While this might not seem too bad to some, the effect of what predictive text is having on children is downright scary. Children are using smartphones from a very young age and there is more and more research coming out that is urging parents to drastically limit screen time. Along with cognitive impairment and lack of core muscle definition from too much screen time, predictive text has negative effects on a child’s writing skills and vocabulary formation.
Parents from Silicon Valley (the place where most of these technologies have been developed) drastically limit the amount of screen time their children get. The schools in the area also refuse to use computers and tablets in class for young children. With research coming up with these kinds of results, it’s no wonder then that the first ten search results for “predictive text” contain instructions for how to turn it off.