What it is: AutoCorrect tries to guess what you’re typing or misspelling and then automatically replacing what it thinks is the correct word.
In the old days, people made plenty of typing mistakes. That meant editing your text and fixing your errors. With typewriters, this meant using plenty of White-Out and corrective tape to imperfectly blot out an error so you could type over it again. With computers, this meant just correcting an error.
To make typing less error-prone, programs started offering AutoCorrect. The idea is to guess what you’re trying to type and then give you a list of words it thinks you’re trying to write. This can make typing faster and cut down typing errors at the same time. Of course, AutoCorrect often guesses wrong, but it’s still useful in many cases.
Strangely, the origin of AutoCorrect began with the United States trying to write Chinese. Unlike languages such as English, Spanish or Arabic, Chinese words are pictograms. In other words, there is no spelling in putting phonetic characters together to make complete words. Instead, Chinese characters consist of various strokes so you need to create characters out of multiple strokes.
What an electrical engineer named Samuel Hawks Caldwell discovered with the help of some Chinese linguists was that Chinese characters consisted of just a handful of similar strokes. So although Chinese lacked spelling in the same way that English or French does, Chinese does offer a similar feature. That’s when Caldwell created a program that could detect which Chinese characters someone might be trying to write just after they created a few strokes. This was the beginning of AutoCorrect.
Even on Apple’s products, there’s a feature to allow Chinese writing. Just create a few strokes and your iPhone or iPad will list various Chiense characters it thinks you’re trying to write. All you have to do is choose the one you want.
Caldwell’s invention of AutoCorrect was initially designed to help make writing in Chinese easier and his grand vision was to improve communication between the Chinese and the rest of the world. Nowadays, AutoCorrect more often frustrates people when it gets words wrong, but works invisibly in the background when it gets words right so people tend to notice its flaws rather than its benefits.
No matter how you view AutoCorrect, the main idea is to make writing easier and more accurate with the help of computers. Try writing longhand or typing without AutoCorrect and you’ll soon see the benefits that AutoCorrect really does offer. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than letting people make mistakes on their own. Now with Autocorrect, your computer can make its own mistakes for you.