Do you ever have that feeling where you’re staring at an e-mail, mouse over the send button, unsure that this really conveys the message you want to send. Maybe your phrasing is a bit off. You wouldn’t want someone to get the wrong idea, after all. You don’t want a giant conflict to arise that was all the result of a simple misunderstanding. If only there were some sort of program that could check to make sure the tone of your e-mail is appropriate.
And now there is, kind of. Lymbix, a Canadian tech startup, has launched ToneCheck today. It’s a program that runs through Microsoft Outlook, which I just discovered is really aggravating, and it sifts through your e-mail like a spell-check, telling you if something might be too sad or too angry. In theory.
In practice, it’s HILARIOUSLY WRONG VERY OFTEN! And even when it’s right, there’s hilarity to be found in having it analyze the tone behind some of the greatest and worst speeches of all time. We happen to have documented instances of both kinds of hilarity. Let it begin!
The Miss South Carolina Maps Speech – WATCH HERE:
“I personally believe, that U.S. Americans, are unable to do so, because uh, some, people out there, in our nation don’t have maps. and uh… I believe that our education like such as in South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like such as… and, I believe they should uh, our education over here, in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.”
First of all, you may have noticed that ToneCheck won’t let you change the size of the window. Seriously?
Anyway, this analysis is mostly fine and you can start to see that the algorithm, while simplistic, has the potential to work. And as you watch the video, you can really see these emotions in Miss South Carolina’s face. Especially the tremors of fear expressed as she mentions the Iraq. Seriously, ToneCheck? Every mention of Iraq is fearful, or is it just the Iraq?
Sarah Palin’s Tweets:
We gave ToneCheck these two tweets to analyze:
Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing
“Refudiate,” “misunderestimate,” “wee-wee’d up.” English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!
Well, it looks like ToneCheck actually did a good job here. But one has to wonder about the efficacy of a tweet that proceeds from affectionate to contented to humiliating to angry. You’re pretty sneaky there, Palin. You lead off with the love but then attack with the angry heart-stabbing imagery.
The Speech From Independence Day:
“Good morning. Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences any more. We will be united in our common interest. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist — and should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive.’ Today we celebrate our independence day!”
OK, I can understand “Good morning” as being affectionate. So far so good. But how is “in less than an hour” humiliating? Is it just because the word less is there? Would “in more than an hour” be captivating? Also, it’s nice that the work “Mankind” has an enjoyable tone no matter how it may be used. Then it gets the anger and the fear correct for a little while, but it’s not really clear how the 4th of July not being American anymore is amusing. Every other instance of loss is usually labeled sad. Come on, ToneCheck, how about some consistency?
The Speech From Braveheart:
Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!!!
I wish this speech were actually delivered the way ToneCheck makes it appear. Aye (yay!), fight and you may die (oh no, dying is saaad), run and you’ll live — at least a while (yaaay, living is enjoyable!). And dying in your beds many years from now (awww, death again? But that’s sad!). But they’ll never take our FREEDOOOOM!!! (Ok, yeah, that’s nice. I’m pleased with that.)
I guess this might be one ToneCheck just has to go see to understand.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech” – READ HERE:
Joking aside, I would like to clarify that this speech is a definite exception to this otherwise silly list. I don’t intend any disrespect to the speech, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time. I am merely using it to illustrate the flaws with ToneCheck.
Now this is a long speech, and ToneCheck returned way more results than I could unload here. So first, here are some of the moments where I think ToneCheck did a good job at recognizing the tone of the speech, just to be fair to the software:
So those all appear to be as close as the limited vocabulary of ToneCheck can get to matching the legitimate, intended tone of the original “I Have a Dream” speech.
But now, presented with no disrespect to the source material, are what have to be some of the most egregious and possibly offensive misinterpretations of tone I have ever seen:
I don’t know how all these errors even appeared, as some of them seem to have popped up for quite contradictory reasons. Apparently the program didn’t recognize the word “joyous” and decided that passage must have been sad based on the context. But then it saw the word “satisfied” and assumed contented, ignoring the “not” which makes that phrase literally mean the exact opposite of contented. Don’t even get me started on how not amusing the one numbered 6 is, and I am not amused by the fatigue of travel.
But the bottom set of four, aside from number 70 and some interpretations of 71, just takes the cake. “Jews and Gentiles” … HUMILIATING? “Protestants and Catholics” … SAD? And there are some who would probably be quite displeased to see that use of the Lord’s name labeled with “amusing,” though there admittedly is no word ToneCheck uses that more accurately describes that instant of “thank God Almighty.”
So what have we learned? Well, I learned I haven’t been missing anything by always canceling the Outlook configuration wizard. I also learned that tone is a very tricky thing to detect with an algorithm. Luckily, you don’t have to heed any of ToneCheck’s advice, or else e-mails could get very, very odd. But I eagerly await the day when a company thinks it has a tone-checker that can not only detect tone but suggest changes. Because the things that gets wrong promise to be even funnier.