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By Sharmadean Reid
ne of the earliest recordings of predictive text is the Ming Kwai typewriter. Invented in China in the 1940s, this electromechanical typewriter would suggest the next keys to press after you've made your first stroke, making you work faster and more efficiently. Since then predictive text has permeated just about every form of writing technology from early SMS to smartphones to the software I’m typing this essay with.
Predictive text birthed autocorrect, invented by Dean Hachamovitch an engineer at Microsoft Word in the 1990s. In an article in Wired on the history of autocorrect, Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes
“The notion of autocorrect was born when Hachamovitch began thinking about a functionality that already existed in Word...You could set up a string of words—like insert logo—which, when typed and followed by a press of the F3 button, would get replaced by a JPEG of your company's logo. Hachamovitch realized that this...could be used far more aggressively to correct common mistakes. He drew up a little code that would allow you to press the left arrow and F3 at any time and immediately replace teh with the. His ‘aha’ moment came when he realized that, because English words are space-delimited, the space bar itself could trigger the replacement, to make correction … automatic! Hachamovitch drew up a list of common errors, and over the next years he and his team went on to solve many of the thorniest. Seperate would automatically change to separate. Accidental cap locks would adjust immediately (making dEAR grEG into Dear Greg).”
So autocorrect is the great machine, tidying up your errors as you go and making sure that your minor mistakes disappear. Autocorrect will instantly revert to the right word so that no one ever needs to know that you wrote abs when you really meant and.
As well as replacing common grammatical errors your phone will use an AI combination of predictive text and autocorrect to learn from you. The words you use the most are at your fingertips. Names, places and words I use daily, appear on my phone as I’m typing the first letter of the word. I once typed my son's name in capitals as ROMAN and now every time I write his name, it appears in full caps. This doesn’t happen on your phone. My autocorrect is different from yours.
In the same way that your phone is programmed for you, your brain is programmed only by you. So the question is, which version of you is programming your autocorrect? Who is the engineer behind your predictive text?
Think of it like this - if you start to write with good intentions, you write from your higher self. But your phone - with its autocorrect function battling against what you actually want to say - acts as your lower self.
When you metaphorically start typing, your higher self is saying the things it wants to say; it’s speaking its truth. Your autocorrect - your lower self - says “no, this is what I know based on previous data you’ve told me or what I’ve heard and this is what I think we should do instead”. This might show up by switching out “I’m going to” with “I can’t” or “I need” with “I don’t deserve”. If you’ve only ever typed negativity into your personal keyboard, well guess what, when you start typing, it’s going to autocorrect negatively.
Your phone might be delivered with a fresh program using the right language, and it understands the basics of grammar, spelling, and your personal typing habits, but that doesn't mean it always gets it right. As people, there’s a constant war between our lower and higher selves, just like you’re at war with your phone and its bloody autocorrect (I have never ever wanted to type ducking hell!) If you don't catch this disconnect, and you hit enter too fast, the results can be harmful to your mindset.
The New Method here is to rebuild or reconfigure your internal autocorrect in a way that best serves you. When we aren't paying attention, we slip into our lower selves and autocorrect takes over. We act first and think later. The most annoying thing about negative self talk is that your brain doesn’t know the difference. It will take what you say as gospel and believe when you tell yourself you’re unworthy.
To change this, you need to start reprogramming, just like Dean Hachamovitch and his team. They actively went through common English language mistakes and put mechanisms in place to eradicate them. Can you do the same for your thoughts?
While it's not something that happens overnight, you can start thinking differently, have an impact on your neuroplasticity and build new neural pathways. We need to be an active participant to correct our autocorrect.
Start by writing down common thoughts and responses you have.
I don’t know enough about that They won’t want me I can’t do that What if they reject me
And reprogram it with opposing phrases
I know this They want me I can do that They love me
While in previous chapters we have looked at where these thoughts may come from, this Method is about repetition and building muscle memory for positive responses. Growing confidence requires work, and by thinking about your internal autocorrect you’re able to instantly swerve to a statement that serves you.
You may want to get lined sheets of A4 paper, and like Bart Simpson in detention write out lines and lines of positive statements, repeated like protective soldiers. You may want to record yourself on your phone and listen to it while you sleep. Either way, it needs to be positive and repetitive, so that when you start typing, your autocorrect is coming from a good place, not a critical one.
Artificial intelligence is defining the future of the world, but who is in charge of the input? It’s time to be your own engineer and rebuild your internal autocorrect with loving kindness.
Reprogram your internal autocorrect for better self esteem.
By Sharmadean Reid
The ‘Pure O’ or ‘purely obsessional’ type of OCD is characterised by distressing, intrusive thoughts and mental rituals to cope with them. Rae Elliman shares her experience of living with – and learning to manage – these hidden compulsions