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New A.I. tech helps you write right

Mike Elgan | July 21, 2015
The newest cloud tools (which are online now) can help you fix your writing as you write.

Watson Tone Analyzer is the newest of these technologies. It became available last week as part of the Watson Developer Cloud application programming interfaces and software developer kits, which are the tools IBM offers to developers so that they can use Watson's capabilities in their software.

Watson Tone Analyzer rates your language in three categories:

You'll note that the "judgment" in these three categories is positive or negative. One of Watson Tone Analyzer's potential uses is to help you boost the positive and cut the negative.

Other uses might be to customize or adjust the tone of marketing messages for specific target audiences, market research, PR and automated contact center management, according to IBM.

One other potential application that is very interesting is that the technology could give virtual assistants -- such as Apple's Siri, Google's Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana or Amazon's Alexa -- the ability to "understand" the "tone" of their users' requests and then respond with an appropriate "tone." For example, by detecting elation or sadness, one's virtual assistant could respond with excitement or empathy, respectively.

When you process your words in the Watson Tone Analyzer, it highlights and color-codes all the words that contribute to tone, and by clicking on those words you can see Watson's suggested alternatives and improvements.

IBM expects developers to create Watson Tone Analyzer plug-ins for browsers, email applications, social-media front ends and other applications.

While all this sounds great, the trouble is that "tone" in language is, to date, impossible for software to deal with. Back to my own example, Watson Tone Analyzer detected "anger" in my prose, but only because I was describing the ability of Watson Tone Analyzer to detect anger. The word "anger" repeated several times caused Watson to say, in effect, "Hey, calm down. Why so angry?"

This highlights the vast distance that artificial intelligence has to go before it can know the difference between talking about anger and writing in an angry tone.

In that respect, Watson is useless for most people who write well. But that's not the case with another major product in this category, called Textio.


A cloud-based artificial intelligence service, Textio is another example of how software is trying to help people write better -- or, at least, more effectively in the achievement of specific goals.

Textio was founded by big-data experts from Microsoft and Amazon. Their slogan is "words + data = magic."

Textio applies big data to link language with specific outcomes. For instance, verbatim job ads can be fed into the Textio algorithm, along with data on who applied, and the system can figure out which words and phrases either succeeded or failed in support of the hiring company's recruiting goals.


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