Pretty Sweet Tech: Auto Complete Lesson Plan

Not my hands

I was typing an email on my phone last night and Google kept trying to put words in my mouth. Some of them were things no human being would ever say, others were eerily close to what I was planning to say. I have a Google Pixel smartphone and I recently found out this feature is called Smart Compose. Instead of only recommending the end of a word I’m typing, the system might recommend a full sentence.

I decided to try an experiment. Every time those light grey recommended words popped in, I tapped on them to accept the recommendation. I got some interesting results. Some were way off, others were eerily accurate. I tried it with responses to emails, and fresh email drafts with no recipient. Here’s what I started to notice:

  • Responses to emails resulted in longer recommended phrases
  • Initial email drafts with no recipient resulted in small, one-word recommendations to the end of sentences.
  • Business formatted emails resulted in long recommendations of formal sentences
  • Casual emails resulted in off-the-wall recommendations of things I would never say.

Good times were had by all. Anyway, the lesson plan idea is pretty simple here. Have learners observe their auto-response texts and emails for a while. If the person has auto-response deactivated on their device, temporarily reactive the service. It can be turned off later.

This observation can be done over the course of a brief lesson, or observed over the span of a week. Just ask people to write an email or text, then choose the autocomplete option. Highlight or mark out the autocomplete section so it can be identified later. This activity can only be done with Gmail or another Google service that has Smart Compose enabled.

Ask people to consider these questions:

  1. Would you ever say any of the things Google recommends?
  2. Did Google’s recommendation change what you were originally going to type?
  3. Was the recommendation better or worse than what you had planned (consider phrasing, politeness, grammar, etc.)?
  4. Do you like the Auto Complete option?
  5. What do you think Google is looking at to make these recommendations?
  6. How will this change the way we communicate?

Additional Resources

Gmail Autocomplete Feature Unveiled (YouTube): See Smart Compose in action and hear from the team that made the feature.

Here’s How to Use Gmail’s Smart Compose: The Verge shows you how to enable Smart Compose if you haven’t upgraded to the new Gmail yet.

Google’s AI-powered Smart Compose feature is coming to Google Docs: The Verge describes in more detail how the system works and how to use the beta in Google Docs.

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