Kaitlyn Tiffany and I avoided talking about email as long as we could, but it’s the fourth season of our podcast, so it’s time. This week on Why’d You Push That Button?, we ask: why are people so worked up over Gmail’s Smart Reply feature? Smart replies are suggestions that Google makes through artificial intelligence when someone begins replying to an email. It’s similar to Smart Compose, which makes suggestions as you type. People have strong feelings about both of these features. (Please, do a search for hot takes. You’ll find many, including one that calls them “evil.”)
We interview Verge deputy editor Liz Lopatto about her Smart Reply feelings and how, perhaps, they aren’t so bad. Then we chat with writer Sarah Hagi about how she only uses smart replies in highly specific situations. (I won’t spoil the surprise, sorry!) Finally, we talk to Naomi S. Baron, a professor of linguistics emerita at American University and author of Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World. She walks us through the history of prewritten messages and how we all need to relax. Email and language will persevere, even if Google’s AI writes all of our boring responses.
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