Live by the algorithm, suggest sexist changes by the algorithm.
I was composing an article about Rep. Michele Bachmann on Monday when I noticed something odd: The spellcheck function of Google Docs had flagged a couple of words that weren't misspelled. One was "herself," in a sentence that referred to a "presidential candidate"; the spellchecker asked, "Did you mean: himself?" The other was the word "congresswoman," to which the spellchecker suggested, "Did you mean: congressman?"
Was Google's spellchecker not-so-subtly taking issue with the idea that a woman could be a presidential candidate or a member of Congress? It certainly looked that way. Here's another screenshot from my draft:
What the heck was going on? The answer may lie in the fact that Google's spellchecker isn't a traditional spellchecker that relies on a static dictionary of known words. Rather, it's a dynamic system that uses the Web to discern the correctness of spelling and grammar in context. "This is very similar to how the 'Did you mean...' feature in Google search works -- it's based on an algorithm that looks at what spellings and word pairings are most common on the web," Google spokesman Tim Drinan explained. "This has a few advantages, including contextual suggestions, homonym correction, and constantly evolving suggestions."