Don’t Rely Too Much on Technology

I can remember when pocket calculators first became available, and I recall how useful I found the scientific one that I bought when I was studying mathematics at school. No more looking up the trigonometry functions in tables, etc.

The thing is, as the calculator was so handy, I later discovered that my ability to do even simple calculations in my head became a little rusty because I was relying on the calculator to give me an instant answer. As it happened, relying on the calculator might not have been a good idea. A friend of mine, whose mathematical ability was much lower than my own, also bought a calculator. Being a new toy, he couldn’t put it down and he would spend a lot of time playing with it. One day, he asked me “What is the square root of 4?”. I immediately answered “Two”, while at the same time wondering why he was asking me such a simple question. “No.” he said, “it’s 1.999999999”, believing the calculator must be giving him the right answer.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed by the calculator that he had bought.

Similarly, the calculator program that came with Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 wasn’t very good at simple arithmetic. If you entered 3.11 – 3.1, it would give the answer 0.

These are simple examples of relying on technology that is flawed. Generally, most calculators do better nowadays. Since the time of those calculators, technology has moved on considerably, and there are much more complex tools that can lead you astray. Spell-checkers are a prime example, because it’s very easy to inadvertently select the wrong version of English (British or US), for example.

An even worse culprit is the Grammar Checker. The one built in to the latest versions of Microsoft Word often highlight text that is grammatically correct because it highlights common mistakes (such as confusion over “their”, “there” and “they’re”).

Now this is ok if you know your spelling and grammar, but people who rely on these tools to check their grammar are totally at their mercy. I have often read documents that have incorrect grammar as suggested by the grammar checker because the author has assumed that the grammar checker gets it right.

As somebody who has a good command of the English language, I can see when the grammar checker is being over-enthusiastic. Today I saw an example of Word 2007 showing just how stupid it is. The original text is grammatically correct, yet it highlights a word and makes the most ridiculous suggestion for an alternative. See the picture below.

It is genuinely trying to replace the text
“Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!”
“Why, there am hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!”

Would you blindly accept the suggestion it is making? It’s amazing how many people would!

July 12, 2012 · Phil Rogers · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Technology

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