There were a lot of announcements crammed within Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address on Monday, but amid $3,499 augmented reality ski goggles and a brand new 15-inch MacBook Air was nestled a pretty big “ducking” deal—Apple’s next iOS launch will feature a smarter autocorrect capable of, among other things, recognizing your attempts to spice up texts with a certain expletive.
“In those moments where you just want to type a ‘ducking’ word, well, the keyboard will learn it, too,” Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, said during WWDC’s showcase. As BBC noted on Tuesday, the more linguistically natural ability will come via Apple’s latest AI advancements, which are purportedly better at predicting words and phrases by learning which terminology you use the most—including, if it comes to it, swear words.
The technology behind autocorrect AI is what’s known as a “transformer model.” First detailed in 2017 by Google software engineer Jakob Uszkoreit, transformer models are neural networks that learn context via treating linguistic aspects like vocabulary and sentence patterns as data points, then calculating each likely ensuing word or phrase as users type. These machine learning advancements have exploded in recent years via much hyped, often controversial predictive text AI such as OpenAI’s GPT and Google Bard.
But according to Cindy Blanco, a Learning Scientist and Senior Manager of Learning Content for the popular language tutoring service Duolingo, Apple’s forthcoming feature is unequivocally a welcome one. “Expletives are a completely natural, normal part of language—whether we like it or not. They serve a number of linguistic and emotional functions, even including alleviating pain,” Blanco tells PopSci. “It’s pretty typical for written language standards to lag behind what comes natural to us during in-person communication, so this feels like a win for those of us typing how we talk.”
For now, however, Apple users remain far from “zero ‘ducks’ given.” iOS 17 is only scheduled for public beta testing next month, with a full release not expected until sometime later this fall.