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“I don’t use the phrase “Will do!” much in daily conversation, but lately it has been creeping into more and more of my e-mails. An editor asks me to get a draft back to her tomorrow? Will do! A friend heading back to Los Angeles from New York sends me a quick note telling me to enjoy living in the “best city in the world.” Will do! The hosts of a panel I’m moderating need me to send over a three-line bio? Will do!
“Will do!” is just one of many Smart Replies that Google now provides as a default feature in Gmail, there to assist you in your message composition unless you choose to manually turn them off. In October, the e-mail service, which one analytics firm suggests hosts about a quarter of all the e-mails sent worldwide, made this feature standard on its 1.4 billion active accounts, along with a menu of other innovations. These include Smart Compose, a feature that finishes your sentences for you with the help of robot intelligence, and Nudges, a feature that bumps unanswered e-mails to the top of your in-box, making you feel increasingly guilty with every sign-in.
As with many technological updates that are suddenly imposed on unsuspecting users, the new Gmail interface has been met with much annoyance. When my in-box started offering me Smart Replies, I felt a little offended. How dare it guess what I want to say, I thought. I—a professional writer!—have more to offer than just “Got it!” or “Love it!” or “Thanks for letting me know!” (Smart Replies are big on exclamation points.) I started to resent the A.I., which seemed to be learning my speech patterns faster than I could outsmart it. Just as I decided that I’d thwart the machine mind by answering my messages with “Cool!” (side note: it is hard to sound like anything but a Dad Trying to Be Hip over e-mail, even without robotic intervention), the service started offering me several “Cool” varietals. Suddenly, I could answer with “Sounds cool” or “Cool, thanks” or the dreaded “Cool, I’ll check it out!” (Spoiler: I’m not going to check it out.)”
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