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'What the duck' no more: Apple will stop autocorrecting your favorite swear word

Apple says upgrades to autocorrect are coming with its new software this fall.
Justin Sullivan
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Apple says upgrades to autocorrect are coming with its new software this fall.

Any iPhone user with their autocorrect function turned on knows that a certain four-letter expletive will be replaced immediately by the rhyming name of a species of waterfowl — but not for much longer.

Apple's upcoming iOS 17 iPhone software will stop autocorrecting swear words, thanks to new machine learning technology, the company announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.

"In those moments where you just want to type a ducking word, well, the keyboard will learn it, too," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering.

Autocorrect substitutions have historically been a source of frustration as well as entertainment for many, spawning popular "damn you, autocorrect" social media accounts, internet memes and at least one song.

And, as many (but not all) tired typists agree, it's "about ducking time" for an update.

The upgraded system is powered by a transformer language model, which Apple calls "a state-of-the-art on-device machine learning language model for word prediction."

This AI model more accurately predicts which words and phrases you might type next, TechCrunch explains. That allows it to learn a person's most-used phrases, habits and preferences over time, affecting which words it corrects and which it leaves alone.

The update also aims to make autocorrect better at fixing grammatical mistakes and predicting words or phrases as users type, as well as making dictation more accurate, Apple says.

The new autocorrect will "improve the experience every time you type," Federighi said.

And it's just one of many new features of iOS 17, which is set to be released this fall. Others include real-time voicemail transcriptions, the ability to leave messages and reactions on FaceTime, a new Journal app and improved sharing capabilities with AirDrop, AirPlay and AirTag.

Apple is also announcing a slew of new products, including laptop and desktop computers and the Vision Pro, a virtual reality headset that will retail for $3,499 and be available for purchase starting in early 2024.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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