Just recently, my dear and ever-patient wife sent me an e-mail asking my opinion about a Christmas gift for one of our grandchildren.
Like many of us, I use Gmail. As I was opening and reading her question, Google had already proposed three responses: “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”, “I think that's a great idea!”, and “I don't think so.” All I needed to do was click on one of them.
While we’ve come a long way from telemarketers' predictive dialing and WordPerfect's primitive Spellcheck, we've also learned (often the hard way) that blind reliance on computer-proposed answers can get us in trouble. We’re not quite at the point where we can trust computers to do all of our thinking for us.
Without doubt, Artificial Intelligence apps such as Grammarly are wonderful for screening out goofy typos and spelling errors, but they can't yet detect the sense of the thing. For example, a few Briefings back I deliberately wrote, “Ore wood eye?” Grammarly gave me a pass on that syntactical nonsense. The next week I used the indicative instead of the subjunctive, and not a murmur from Grammarly. But a human reader caught me!
Oddly enough, we are much less concerned about letting computers speak for us than letting them drive our cars for us. While most of the evidence is that self-driving cars are already far safer than human-driven cars, most of us approach the technology with trepidation. Self-driving cars are just about physics-- distance, speed, road surfaces, gaps-- all measurable to fifty decimal places and utterly predictable, and also not subject to fatigue, distraction, alcohol or medications. On the scale of things, easy stuff.
But communication is far more complex than driving a car. It's not just words-- it's about subtly nuanced interchanges between minds, hearts and souls. The day may come that Artificial Intelligence knows about your mood, your level of emotional intimacy with the other person and your vocabularic style, and it may learn to copy the tell-tale tremble in your voice, the furrow in your brow, and the inquiring tilt of your head. But until it does, you're still in charge of your essential human interactions.
Until Artificial Intelligence is smarter than you, you're still responsible for what you say. If you're prepared to hit "send" without reading and thinking, be prepared for the consequences.
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.