Job of The Day: Inventor of Autocorrect

Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ history of autocorrect and how it was developed at Microsoft in the early 90’s is so fun. Dean Hachamovitch is the inventor on the patent and now head of data science at Microsoft. “He freely concedes that he types teh as much as anyone,” god bless him.

My favorite part is when they needed to make a dictionary-resistant master list of vulgarities to block from being autocorrected. And, of course, they brought in the intern:

What they needed, they realized — not just for this type of exception but for all of them — was a master list, a kind of artisanal concordance. The task fell to Hachamovitch’s intern, Christopher Thorpe, a 19-year-old on leave from Harvard. Thorpe wrote a script that compiled all the manual entries that Microsoft employees had made to their custom dictionaries — words the built-in dictionary hadn’t recognized but that were judged by users to be legitimate.

An inspiration, as he recalls it, was a certain Microsoft user named Bill Vignola. One day Vignola sent Bill Gates an email. (Thorpe couldn’t recall who Bill Vignola was or what he did.) Whenever Bill Vignola typed his own name in MS Word, the email to Gates explained, it was automatically changed to Bill Vaginal. Presumably Vignola caught this sometimes, but not always, and no doubt this serious man was sad to come across like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel. His email made it down the chain of command to Thorpe. And Bill Vaginal wasn’t the only complainant: As Thorpe recalls, Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs.

Photo via Flickr

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