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May 14, 2007

Stereotypes Revealed by Google's Spell Checker

Google's automated spell checker is useful and most of the times accurate, but lately some people noticed that the spell checker corrects queries like "she invented" / "she created" / "she discovered" with "he invented" / "he created" / "he discovered". Google analyzes people's queries to come up with the suggestions, so one of the explanation could be that the masculine versions are more frequently used.

Chicago Tribune got an official response from Google: "Google develops its own spell-checking algorithms based on sophisticated machine learning methods, using cues from aggregated user input, Web documents, and many other sources. The algorithm provides a 'best-guess' alternative suggestion that we think might improve the search results, and is completely generated without human input. It can be thought of as a suggestion offer, rather than a definitive answer."


  1. actually, it not really evil. Google didn't intend it to do as such. the users search for more "he"s than "she"s and Google is just suggesting better results.

  2. I think the "Did you mean: [phrase]" could be tweaked a little to expand with similar/popular searchs, or at least detect gender in a search.

    I mean something like "She created" and being suggested to search for "He created" could offend quite a few people.
    I think things like this should be detected and ignored since i think if someone were to type a very general search like this, they would have meant it rather than accidentally added/missed an S.

    Kinda funny too though.

  3. A more plausible query that shows the same masculine "did you mean...":
    she discovered radium

    Marie Curie discovered Radium in 1898, helped by her husband, Pierre Curie.

  4. yeah they are right if you search for

    it tries to correct that too and its absolute nonsense

  5. Why can't they say sorry and correct it. I thought Google always does that unlike Microsoft.

  6. I don't think it's normal to apologize for the results of an algorithm. Google apologized for the antisemitism of some of the top results for "jew" at some point.

  7. I found this post in my research on the Google spelling suggestion algorithm. I so far understand that it works as follows:

    1)Check for misspelled words

    2)Select among highest ranking variations weighted by frequency of searches (they log these).

    The point is that it's automated. There's not some sexist guy at Google creating a table of spelling suggestions for every possible phrase. That would be lame and unimpressive from a programming point of view. If anything this would indicate that internet users as a whole show a tendency toward a male dominated world view.

    It would be interesting to run the search for a set of phrases "she ..." and their coressponding "he ..." Unfortunately, it looks like Google supressed those phrases. Maybe because of the way people interpret the results?