Google's technology will not suggest gender-based pronouns because the risk is too high that its "Smart Compose" technology might predict someone's sex or gender identity incorrectly and offend users, product leaders revealed to Reuters in interviews.
Gmail product manager Paul Lambert said a company research scientist discovered the problem in January when he typed "I am meeting an investor next week," and Smart Compose suggested a possible follow-up question: "Do you want to meet him?" instead of "her."
Consumers have become accustomed to embarrassing gaffes from autocorrect on smartphones. But Google refused to take chances at a time when gender issues are reshaping politics and society, and critics are scrutinizing potential biases in artificial intelligence like never before.
"Not all 'screw ups' are equal," Lambert said. Gender is a "a big, big thing" to get wrong.
Getting Smart Compose right could be good for business. Demonstrating that Google understands the nuances of AI better than competitors is part of the company's strategy to build affinity for its brand and attract customers to its AI-powered cloud computing tools, advertising services and hardware.
Gmail has 1.5 billion users, and Lambert said Smart Compose assists on 11 percent of messages worldwide sent from Gmail.com, where the feature first launched.
Smart Compose is an example of what AI developers call natural language generation (NLG), in which computers learn to write sentences by studying patterns and relationships between words in literature, emails and web pages.