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Apple Autocorrects Names of Some Medications to Names of Different Medications (twitter.com/slatestarcodex)
248 points by Houshalter on Dec 24, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 128 comments

This is reminiscent (in scope for errors, not mechanism) as the problem from a few years back with the Xerox machines that would alter the text of copies:



That is an amazingly bad design.

That was an incredible read. I had no idea about it. Hilariously dangerous.

I am baffled by some of the twitter responses. If a real person were crossing out one drug and writing in another would people be rushing to their defence? Here is a good rule:

It is never right that a computer should do the wrong thing.

It may be explicable, it may be avoidable, it may be correctable but if it is wrong it is wrong. We will be living in a world where computers are increasingly autonomous in their actions. Defending their behaviour now sets a dangerous precedent. Will the same people be blaming victims of self driving cars?

So whoever added drugs to the spell checker didn't think it through properly. They need to be told to take them out or put them all in and keep them updated. If we work around things it is us who will become the servants.

Honestly, it's been a while since our partisanship has spread to arguments about tech. It never suprises me to see people are going to extreme lengths to defend Apple, even when it's a life and death situation.

"Re check your work before you click submit or send. Don't place blame on Apple."

"It’s pretty easy for a sysadmin to disable autocorrect"

Educated people aren't immune from this effect either.

Dealing with any issue in the Apple community is mostly baffling. The mindset of it works for me just pisses me off so much. Got a weird apple bug? 20 comments of how it works for them and YOU must be the problem. Watching people do mental gymnastics to apologize for the battery slowdown issues on iPhone recently makes me throw my hands up in the air and land of my face.

I recall when the first iPhone came out. People would criticized the missing features, which were inability to copy and paste and no MMS support and Apple apologists would reply with "why would you want that?"

It was pretty surreal.

I agree. The ridiculous lack of empathy is egregious: it’s easy to whitelist a word (for me based on the single example given in the tweet and ignoring the hideous number of trade names for pharmaceuticals); any competent sysadmin could disable it on the network/is the master image (since I could and I have no experience with the administration or staffing of a medical business so I assume they have plenty of budget available for IT busiwork).

You don’t need to be working at a VC-backed company in the valley to be a tech-bro.

Most medical businesses I'm familiar with (having a lot of doctors in the family) have no professional sysadmins and definitely no master images.

Same to both from here. I remember helping MD fix their homebrew patient record systems implemented in MS Access, and advising them to YE GODS

and a mistake in a prescription script can have life changing circumstances

Autocorrection in general is bad. Underlining errors and proposing corrections is OK. As a keyboard user, I expect what I type to show as-is on the screen. I can always correct later.

Also, autocorrection does not provide proper feedback to learn from mistakes. Underlining errors does.

I've seen people argue that autocorrect is part of the input mechanism of on-screen smartphone keyboards. The rationale goes, with a physical keyboard of respectable size, you make much fewer typing mistakes than with a virtual keyboard on flat glass where the touch targets are tiny. To compensate for the inferior precision, autocorrect comes in to figure out what you meant.

As a thought experiment, consider voice input. Voice input is often used when a screen isn't even available for feedback, so the computer has to figure out if it thinks it transcribed you correctly. To make the usability bearable (and to keep the computational difficulty down), contemporary systems don't ask you for clarification; they just try to transcribe your sentence against a dictionary. For the voice-controlled systems of today, "autocorrect" is definitely part of the input mechanism.

> I've seen people argue that autocorrect is part of the input mechanism of on-screen smartphone keyboards. The rationale goes, with a physical keyboard of respectable size, you make much fewer typing mistakes than with a virtual keyboard on flat glass where the touch targets are tiny. To compensate for the inferior precision, autocorrect comes in to figure out what you meant.

That's a nice theory; the problem is that autocorrect is often stunningly bad at that, and turns slight typos into radically different words. Humans are very good at getting the correct sense from text with typos, but not so much with arbitrary replacements.

Voice control is, obviously, a whole different kettle of fish since you don't have a text input stream to start with.

> That's a nice theory; the problem is that autocorrect is often stunningly bad at that

It gets even worse for some non-English languages. The standard way to do autocorrect seems to be roughly "pick the the word I know that has the lowest Levenshtein distance from whatever that was typed". The problem with this is that in, for example, Finnish, every word has a few dozen conjugated forms that have a very short Levenshtein distance to the original word, each of those has a few dozen more conjugated forms that have a short distance to them, etc etc until each Finnish base noun has roughly ~2000 conjugated forms and every verb has ~12000 of them.

No autocorrect system in existence actually knows the rules on how to form those words, and none of them actually have anywhere near all of them stored, either. The result is that the minute you output anything even remotely complex it gets autoincorrected to something else. Despite this, most devices and software ships with autocorrect on. The first thing most Finns do is turn it off.

The irony of it is that even if you had perfect autocorrect, it really would not be that helpful near the endings of words, simply because the possibility space is so full of correct words that a typo has a good chance of hitting one.

German here. Autocorrect is useless when using slang words or dialect, conjugations/grammar rules, and mixing languages (like adding in English words), which happens quite frequently

> pick the the word I know that has the lowest Levenshtein distance from whatever that was typed

I'm pretty sure that in fact it is frequency weighted. You can see that when a correct but rare word is replaced by a much more frequent word.

> Humans are very good at getting the correct sense from text with typos, but not so much with arbitrary replacements.

That assumes that you leave the typos in place rather than fixing them. If your goal is to type error-free text, then which one leads to the correct text faster? Autocorrect and then fixing the occasional word it gets wrong, or trying to edit away typos on a tiny screen?

The goal is to communicate meaning. If you don't have an army of editors between you and your readers, it is unlikely that you'll achieve error-free text, and typos left in place is better at communicating meaning. Autocorrection is a lossy, information-destroying transformation.

The problem is you have to notice the autocorrect error quickly to be sure of that working. When you miss one and notice it later, you may have forgotten what word you intended. It's also more of a problem when you don't notice it, as it may change your meaning or render it incomprehensible to a message recipient.

I notice this kind of problem a lot with dictation, where it can completely transform the look of a word, and I sometimes have to say it out loud to try and figure out what I might have meant that sounds similar.

A correctable error (e.g. a typo, as most will still be understood) is better than an uncorrectable error (e.g. a change to a word that may still made sense in the context). Offering to correct a word, rather than silently doing it, will like lead to correct text, rather than text that _appears_ correct faster - I can very quickly scan for a UI prompt suggesting there is a typo, but I might never notice when a word is silently changed for me.

I've noticed this on Windows Phone - on WP8, the background colour of the suggested word briefly changes on an automatic correction, so it's easy to notice and double-check it's done the right thing. On WP10, it only gets slightly bolded and only until you hit space. I've had multiple emails where I've not noticed a erroneous correction until I'm later re-reading it for whatever reason.

> Offering to correct a word, rather than silently doing it, will like lead to correct text, rather than text that _appears_ correct faster

Android's approach is to take confidence in the correction into account: if it's extremely sure it'll auto-correct, if it's less sure it'll just offer. And either way, the UI makes it clear when either of those things has happened.

It would be cool to present both to the reader somehow. They already have it for the writer.

Particularly given that typos are typically resulting in a non existing word. Auto-replacement in some correct word that would make sense in the current context, even if it says something radically different that what was intended.

The problem comes when autocorrect is too aggressive and changes things that are already correct. Correcting, say, "inferoor" to "inferior" is useful on devices where mistakes are commonplace. However, these are examples that I've notice my phone "correct" over the last few months, often changing the entire meaning or making it nonsensical:

"if" or "is" to I; "ran" to "Ra"; "nan" to "Na"; "drew" to "are"; "near" to "new"

I've also had a couple of occasions where trying to type a specific letter has resulted in the letter to either side (e.g. "o" or "p" when trying to type "i") and it's taken multiple tries to hit the right letter because the device thinks it knows better and has (presumably) made the touch target so tiny (and I know it's not a hardware/screen issue, because I've seen the keyboard display that you've hit a certain key then input something different)

These sound more like bugs than a correctly functioning autocorrect. Apple's autocorrect has had some serious bugs like you mentioned, e.g. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208240 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5129957/Does-...

I don't know why people hate autocorrect so much. Yes it's annoying. But trying to use a mobile "keyboard" without it is far more annoying. For every word it gets wrong, it gets 10 more right. Maybe more. And saves me a ton of time on average.

It should definitely be considered part of the input process. Certain kinds of mobile keyboads, like the swyping based ones, and the ones on tiny smart watches, would literally be unusable without autocorrect.

If you know how they work, I think they are pretty elegant. Taking a probability distribution over all the letters you could have been aiming for and missed, and all the words you could have been trying to type, and the probability of each in that context.

On Android, there is a top strip of suggested words that you can tap (seems to be one on iPhone?). It's pretty decent, and is definitely a part of how I type, which is basically, type 2 to 3 letters, tap the word I want. I can write some lengthy emails quickly using this style of typing, and I really don't use autocorrect that much.

Touch-screen typing is an entirely different interface than a physical keyboard.

I somewhat agree with this compensation logic, however, I think the correction is not intelligent enough to be bearable yet (Not context-aware, no grammar support, poor support across languages, etc.). I type my stuff faster without autocorrect.

Also, the post is about a macbook, which has a keyboard.

Yes, the TFA is about a laptop from a maker who popularized autocorrect on smartphones. In the early days, spellcheck was an application-level concern, but its presence in smartphone platforms as an OS-level service made them part of user and developer expectations.

Nowadays, macOS, Windows, and Chrome OS all come with built-in spellcheck, with various levels of default autocorrect.

Autocorrect is okay for meaningless rants to your brogrammer. Autocorrect should be off for documents as a rule, unless you click a button to autocorrect everything, or turn it on specifically. Plus, you don't autocorrect words you don't understand that are long and big, there are metrics for measuring that.

What I think I'd like is to type a whole input and then go back and select corrections all in a batch. The correction mode could use more of the screen to help you go faster, plus take advantage of rightward context as well as leftward. Very probable corrections could take advantage of Fitts' law or maybe grouping of multiple corrections into one.

The goal is to never get 'corrected' without my assent, while still going fast. This might be underexplored, because designers aim to keep it easy for everyone without training. (But this is also likely just a bad idea. I mostly just don't type on phones and curse them when I do.)

At some point gesture typing got turned on on my android phone, found it by accident, and then tried it out. I really like it much better than tapping. Smooth circling gestures gets the word displayed and the row of three alternative mappings almost always has the word I want if its first guess was wrong.

This was especially nice for me as my natural finger hits about 1/8 of an inch to the right of where I think it should. Is there any way to calibrate the touch position on android to fix this problem? Google fails me and, if this is not possible, it seems the tech industry has also. I have Android 8.0.0.

That may be true, but the reported behavior is on desktop/laptop MacOS.

I've taken to calling it autoincorrect. The prediction model for phone text seems to only consider word frequencies and blindly replace "were" with "we're" or its with "it's" every time it is encountered without regard for grammatical context. It's incredibly frustrating to type the correct word only to have it mangled by an algorithm that is less sophisticated than MS Word 95.

Now you appreciate what MS did.

Thank you, saved me having to suggest its "autoincorrect". A thousand times, yes.

Default autocorrect is only part of the issue. The more important problem is that it doesn't correct medication names to some odd word combination, like fluoxetine -> flu oxen time, but to another medication.

And you can't just not have those names in there by default. They have to be either blacklisted or installed at once, and that list must be updated regularly indefinitely. Adding a few choice medication names means those words become candidates for a number of other 'misspellings', so you need ALL the possible drug names to prevent correction from another (correct) drug to the newly added (incorrect) one.

Of course the dark path behind this is that a drug company can pay keyboard/spell check makers an incentive to autocorrect to their drugs. You typed "Lipitro". Did you mean "Zocor"?

I was recently trying to write HSA into Excel (as in "Health Savings Account"). Unfortunately HSA is auto-corrected to HAS. In Excel there's no way to undo the auto-correct, even if you backspace and retype it re-corrects. Even putting quotes around it in the cell ("HSA") will auto-correct to "HAS".

So now my user experience with Excel is going to Options -> Proofing -> AutoCorrect Options -> [Find HSA on the long list] -> Delete. I took the opportunity to delete them all.

Honestly if this software was written today I don't believe Auto-Correct would be implemented the way it is, it is super lazy with no room for false positives.

If I recall correctly, the secret incantation to suppress auto-correct in MS Office is control+Z right after the correction occurs.

I've worked with Hong Kong stocks a lot in Excel, and the major stock index is the HIS. No, HIS! HIS! Hang Seng Index, HIS! Arghh... You really have to go to the autocorrect options, as you describe, and remove the HSI->HIS rule, until you get a bloody "HSI" into an Excel cell :-)

EDIT: It's actually the Hang Seng Index, not HK Stock Index, but both expansions capture the meaning.

Oh, God. Excel is the bane of my existence. It does all kinds of crazy stuff that baffles me to no end. I'm sure it all makes perfect sense to an Excel expert but for the casual user who only has to use Excel a few times a year it's a battle with the program. Stuff like interpreting plain numbers pasted as "text only" (example 1234) as dates. And you have to pay close attention because it doesn't really tell you "hey I'm changing what you entered."

First thing I do on every new device, computer tablet or phone is disable the stupid autocorrect. I can't understand how it can be the default. Spellcheck and suggestions are fine, autocorrect absolutely not...

The more languages you need to type, the worse it becomes.

I love autocorrect on my phone. I frequently fat finger letters, and my typing on mobile is faster now due to me being able to assume it'll autocorrect for me. My phone isn't a device I would ever use for writing long prose that might have legitimate spelling issues.

On my laptop though--I usually disable the autocorrect and instead limit it to underlining misspellings.

Autocorrect on the iPhone has gotten noticeably worse in the last year or so, often ‘correcting’ words that were spelled correctly to words that make no sense.

> Autocorrection in general is bad

My emphasis. I dispute this. I use Vim and I have set it up to automatically correct common spelling mistakes I make. It's quite useful and I can see no downside to it.

I heard this problem discussed in a talk about electronic medical records 20 years ago. One of the many drivers was to remove the "burden" of the pharmacist. The speaker (who had an EMR company, and was pro EMR) said that actually the pharmacist was a crucial preventer of error as they would notice a strangely chosen medication (usually a pull-down-list mis-click back in the late 90s) and call the doctor for clarification.

Ironically this would often piss off the patient who was waiting for the prescription!

This happened to me eight years ago, though the prescription was for my wife.

The pharmacist just ignored the prescription because it made no sense for the symptoms, and the dose was correct for the other medication. So it was obvious to him what she had to take.

I'd say that would also be scary..!

Why? Pharmacists have specific training and this is part of their responsibility.

If a pharmacy tech did this it would be scary. But an actual pharmacist?

Which part? The pharmacist deciding which medication to give you? It makes sense to me - they're looking at inputs, and using their professional training and experience to make the right choice.

It's no scarier (or, alternatively, as scary as) a doctor listening to your heartbeat and measure your blood pressure and choosing which medication to prescribe.


Because pharmacist are not licensed to prescribe blood pressure medication and they don't have access to your full medical history so they don't know if the medication is appropriate for you.

How did the pharmacist have access to the information - symptoms, test results, medical history - they needed to make the right choice?

Prescriptions include the drug name, (route- oral/rectal) the amount (and exiration), the schedule (and refills), and the symptom being treated along with the name of the doctor and their prescribing organization. Some combinations of them are so common/nonsensical that they could be corrected from context.

I'd argue that changing the drug without calling the doctor (to at least let them know there was a mistake e.g. pull-down error by the nurse assistant) isn't a good idea, but it's VERY common to have them fill with an alternative/generic when the prescribed one isn't in stock. Usually, they'll mention it.

Honestly, there's a reason that pharmacists have such strict education and licensing. They regularly have to decide exactly these things based on this limited information. It's their job (often along with mixing/compounding drugs).

I don't know where you live but I'm sickly, I've filled hundreds of prescriptions in my life written by 20+ (at least) prescribers in three different states. Never once did any contain any symptoms. Even the ones that are prn (as needed).

Not only that but many medications are not for treating symptoms but are prophylactic. Especially post surgical ones.

Examples: Take as needed for anxiety, pain, etc. I've never seen a difference with post surgical prescriptions in CA or TX other than the type and quantity.

Just no... No...

I believe that short term prn medicine may contain some language like that.

For anyone else,

The VAST majority of prescription medication does not contain such language. Post surgical medication are like this: "take once a day" not something like "take this antiepileptic drug once a day to prevent seizures after brain surgery." Which is the actual purpose of the medication.

I talk from experience.

Any type of ongoing maintenance drug is going to omit any sort of symptoms, assuming any are present in the first place.

Again, experience.

Sure, this may be your experience with filling 5 or less prn prescriptions but this isn't how the majority of scripts work.

Even if the pharmacist had your FULL medical history it seems very unusual they'd be able to catch this sort of error.

In my (wife's) case, one of them is taken after giving birth, the other to stop lactation. It was pretty obvious that she needed the former (assuming you knew about both medications, of course!).

I've never understood why autocorrect is enabled by default on Macs, which have precise, physical keyboards.

Default auto-correct is industry standard (see Office software). Not that it is right to follow that lead.

I wonder how people would react to an alert box "I've noticed you have terrible spelling. I may be able to help. Do you want me to auto-correct always and assume the small but real risk of me using the wrong word changing the meaning of what you wrote?" (yes | no | cry)

Autocorrect is a huge feature for most users, myself included. I have bad typing, and it's often much faster than looking something up in the dictionary. For every miscorrect it get's dozens right.

"it gets"

I wonder how many common mistakes are due to autocorrect failing to do its (its, NOT it's - like my phone just "autocorrected" me even when I typed i-t-s) job.

"Program" -> "Orgasm" (not auto-correct, but swype). I have to try very hard when I swype the word "program" because ~80% of the time it gets corrected to "orgasm".

Some words, like this one, should be exempt/blacklisted from autocorrect.


It seems autocorrect developers and models fail to model anything beyond the basic "word exists or not" in the dictionary (and even then it gets some things wrong).

The irony is always present, lol. I use Grammarly for my spellcheck, so I'm amazed that made it through.

But does auto-correct applies to all keyboard inputs (including command lines) or just in office-like applications?

Clinics are more likely to enter the name of a medication in some application rather than a plain text editor.

The answer is imprecise, erroneous humans.

I'd rather make the errors myself, thank you very much!

Noted. Precise humans will choose another brand.

Precise humans will turn it off and post elitist comments on internet forums.

I found this happening with many other domain specific keywords. However, this can be deadly with medications.. Scary.

I wonder how many people have already received the wrong drugs because of this.

This is a disaster waiting to happen. Scary.

Well, yes, but I think the issue is slightly blown out of proportion.

On my 10.10.5 Macbook Air I tested quick and the issue is simply that duloxetine is not part of the dictionary and fluoxetine is. Even as I write this post I have the red line under duloxetine.

I'm not sure how the association was made on their particular computer, but it raises a good point about how the annoyances of AutoCorrect can cause some difficulty. My last name, for example, is mostly unique, but is one letter off from a type of fabric. It was mildly irksome until I had the dictionary learn my name. (At least one goof up at an airport after buying auto-corrected tickets)

In this case, there is of course a simple fix, which the author should apply, and if being deployed in a work environment where the change is important, there are steps that probably should be taken to resolve such issues, and better visible custom dictionary files. (looking on various *.exchange site when searching for "bulk add words to macOS dictionary provides many solutions)

So I agree, that it's a problem, but it's not intentional malice here on Apple, workarounds are available, and it's a really good feature request that ought be a pretty low hanging fruit.

I would assume there are medical regulations that x-ray images, for example, can't be stored as blocky JPEG's.

It seems like there should also be a medical regulation that input devices used in a medical setting should have autocorrect turned off. It's useful for e-mailing your mother, but obviously not in medicine.

There are all sorts of regulations licensed medical practices need to follow, or which medical devices have to follow, which the rest of us don't have to. (Similar to aviation, for example.) Sounds like this is a good candidate for another, no?

Oh, in a desktop computer that's even worse

It could autocorrect minor mistakes but not whole words

fluoxetine -> duloxetine is a minor mistake. It's just swapping lu to ul and typing d instead of f. These are very common typos.

Autocorrect gets it data from all iOS/macOS users, so "just" a few million ppl have to correct it back so it changes for everybody :/

Why isn’t some abulance chaser on it already?

Seriously, proving loss due to something like this should be not too difficult. There is money to be made here - with the ancillary end result being Apple loses, what little position it has, in the point-of-care market.

No spellchecker can be infinite - its always up to the user to ensure they are actually saying what they mean.

Spell checking is something that doesn't happen automatically when you hit spacebar or send though...

it does and can - its app specific behavior - mac apps can be setup to automatic spellecheking, or just flag the word as suspect.

I’d say that’s “autocorrect” rather than “spell check”

Semantics for this discussion - the library used is for both spellchecking and autocorrection.

No, "semantics" suggests that the behaviour is approximately the same. Spellcheck highlights possible errors and awaits user action, while autocorrect silently changes things. They may use the same dictionaries, but they are only distantly related otherwise.

Autocorrect is one reason why I am certain we won’t have working self driving cars any time soon.

Once I see typing correction that’s better than useless, then I’ll know to look out for driverless cars outside of the Bay Area..

That feels true until you imagine plucking a random real life human driver off the street and paying them to act as your own personal auto correcter. Same or worse results and yet they make it to work without a wreck on most days.

This is literally what a publishing editor does. They're a lot better than autocorrect if my experience is anything to go by.

You're totally missing the comparison. The majority of humans drive, hence "random person off the street." Youre talking about a trained professional, the majority of randos aren't randomly spell checking and copy editing documents. The majority of randos are driving, not just highly trained NASCAR drivers.

A very large percentage of driver have no business driving, they will give a driver's license to anyone with a pulse and even people who have no driver's licenses are all over the road. They don't care, drive drunk, tired, half blind, with medical conditions, or otherwise seriously impaired. People would routinely come through my drive thru drunk and stoned, slurring, and barely comprehensible when I worked at BK. You haven't seen dangerous until you've seen someone with bipolar disorder drive while manic.

Youre talking about a trained professional, the majority of randos aren't randomly spell checking documents.

So self driving cars have to be better than your average driver not a professional driver. Which, frankly, is a pretty low bar.

Well, if medications had more unique names wouldn't hurt either. Two separate antidepressants: Escitalopram and Citalopram. And pronounced, they sound almost the same as well.

> Well, if medications had more unique names wouldn't hurt either. Two separate antidepressants: Escitalopram and Citalopram. And pronounced, they sound almost the same as well.

The names only sound confusingly similar to people unfamiliar with them - for physicians and pharmacists, it's rare to confuse them.

The similarity in the names is actually intentional and a feature. For example, erythromycin and azithromycin have the same suffix and similar prefixes, which is an indicator that, not only do they belong to the same class, but one is a derivative of the other.

It's been a while since I studied this, but based on the names alone, I would be willing to bet that Escitalopram is an S-enantiomer of Citalopram - ie, a mirror image of the drug (or an isolation of one of the two mirror images present in the latter). If you say it out loud, it's almost a mnemonic pun.

I could also guess that's an SSRI based on the "pram" suffix, though admittedly you made that easier by mentioning it was an antidepressant in the first place.

INN names (like citalopram) are actually incredibly well-designed for the intended user (a pharmacist or physician, not a patient). I wish engineering terms had the same level of consistency.

Edit: Turns out I was right. Both are SSRIs, and the former is the S-enantiomer of the latter.

Speaking of medication naming schemes; there's the one for monoclonal antibodies. Ever heard a weird name ending in "-mab"? Blame this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomenclature_of_monoclonal_ant...

BTW, the enantiomer thing is a common trick used by the pharma industry to double the life of a patent. They first release the racemic mix, then the purified, active enantiomer once the original patent expires.

The racemic mix usually has a slightly higher level of side effects.

I have heard this before and believe it, but I don't understand why it's not vulnerable to a competitor (perhaps a manufacturer specialising in generic drugs) releasing the version with only the active enantiomer. After all, it's not protected by patent.

That's a very good point and I don't know either.

Possibly: the process to manufacture the molecules is also patented, and you must make the racemic mix to extract the active enantiomer. Not sure though.

e.g. learn Latin. Or Greek. Or whatever it is that 10 fking years in med school actually gives SMEs in that field. Autoincorrect isn't an expert system, and it's behaving like one. Thank you for the detailed example.

It's not Latin or Greek, it's specifically designed technical terminology.

Turns out I was right. Both are SSRIs, and the former is the S-enantiomer of the latter.

Not exactly. You're right that escitalopram is the S-enantiomer; citalopram is the racemic mixture of R- and S-enantiomers (of which only S- has the antidepressant effect).

He said "an isolation of one of the two mirror images present in the latter".

Having more unique names would bring its own set of problems. Structured names are deliberately similar to convey specific information without having to memorise unconnected names (e.g. if it's *-pam, it's probably a benzodiazepine).

Trivial for Apple to compile a list of all medications and fix this.

What's next? When texting with technical employees, it annoys me that the iPhone tries to correct Linux commands or programming snippets. Should Apple have to feed /usr/share/man/ to the autocorrect corpus?

Well, why not? Ideally it should detect the language(s) you're using and use an appropriate word list, and surely subject context would be just as useful?

Of course, not everyone actually wants autocorrect. For me it's about 50% helpful and 50% a hindrance.

Agreed, why not? Why should dictionaries not be improved? They're constantly in motion except for dead languages like Latin and Greek.

What could also work is having multiple hooks (different "niche" dictionaries) which could be enabled or disabled.

In SwiftKey you can select multiple languages (dictionaries) which should be supported (and corrected, if you opt for that option).

But what I mean is that say a user could enable a medication dictionary, or a UNIX manual dictionary, or a law dictionary, or...

Would it lead to fewer cases of mistaken pharmaceutical identity to exclude medication names from the autocorrect dictionary, or to include them?

While maintaining a list is impractical, there are some branding conventions for medication that could be exploited

You're joking right?

Isn't there a database of medications? Parse that and include it in the dictionary.

https://druginfo.nlm.nih.gov/drugportal/, for example.

Like most things, it only seems simple from a distance. Between branded, generic, ingredient, and chemical names, there is diversity and ambiguity in drug naming.

It seems you both are correct... And that's where the problem originates

My Database/Company (https://www.drugbank.ca) contains a list of CC0 names they could use that are international, and it's updated daily.

They seem to have no problem autocorrecting brand names and trademarks. Why wouldn't they do this for something as important as medication?

Given how similar drug names can be, for future proofing, you'd want the auto-correct dictionary to blacklist drug names (trademarks, international nonproprietary names, alternative chemical names if there are any, etc...).

Wow this debate is funny. Imho the blame is solely with the user.

To rely on your phone for autocorrecting difficult medication brands and then blame the phone manufacturer when it doesn't work is really a 1st world problem.

I'm not saying that Apple is unable to remedy this situation. I'm just saying the users are unrealistic in belieiving that Apple has thought of this situation beforehand and made any changes to aide in the autocorrecting of medicine brands.

Because they are brand names. And there are thousands of them.


Apple has been in the business of automating daily tasks on the iphone for a decade now, holding them to account when it comes to when autocorrect could lead to a person's death, and when it is trivially innocent, is at this point perfectly fair.

There are thousands of brands, so having a cherry-picked list of just a few of them preinstalled in the dictionary is something anyone who specialises in autocorrect (say: someone who's worked on it for 10 years and has run into virtually every edge case loads of times by now) knows you should not be doing.

Instead of having autocorrect kick in at all, it should simply go "I do not know this word", so that the blame does lie with the user when they tell the phone to add their medication to the dictionary.

They aren't brand names (e.g. if you wanted the brand name for duloxetine, you'd probably want "Cymbalta"), they are the actual name of the drug. Further, the Twitter link specifically mentions MacBooks, not phones.

"Correcting" a correct word to a different one can _solely_ be blamed on Apple - the user might not even know that the OS does autocorrections, so can hardly be blamed for the system silently changing something they typed correctly (at most you can say they should proof-read the statement). It's an understandable issue, but an issue nonetheless. Especially on desktop, it seems like an easy problem to avoid - just prompt the user that there may be a mistake rather than changing it without their knowledge.

This is on a desktop/laptop not a phone. macOS also does autocorrect by default

Tired of people blaming machines for working as designed when they have full control over the behaviors they are complaining about. It's a single checkbox in the system prefs to disable this system wide by default. These are supposedly professionals. They should be professional with all their tools or hire professionals that can proxy that liability for them.

In other words, this is 100% a fault in the hands of the users in the supposed problem case.

Now, all that said, I'd not be sad at all if this resulted in Apple disabling this feature by default. I always have to disable it on every mac as it drives me nuts. I type quickly so I never see the autocorrection popup.

> Tired of people blaming machines for working as designed

How is the specific case of autocorrecting "duloxetine" to "fluoxetine" the system "working as designed"?

> this is 100% a fault in the hands of the users in the supposed problem case.

Why is a case like autocorrecting "duloxetine" to "fluoxetine" absolutely not in any way a fault of the developers?

Would an autocorrect system with the smarts to avoid that problem not be better?


You seem to be thinking of this in terms of absolutes. One point is that autocorrect, like everything else, has costs and benefits. Just because it has flaws doesn't mean it hasn't got benefits. For me the benefits outweigh the costs. Another is that when flaws are found they can be fixed

But costs can go above a certain absolute threshold. In this example, the cost may be a human life, which is unacceptable.

As I said in my comment, problems like in this case can be addressed. And such problems don't argue against all forms of autocorrect like the comment I replying to was rallying against.

Autocorrect on a machine with a physical keyboard is incredibly surprising behaviour, particularly autocorrect that provides next to no visual feedback. Users shouldn't have to be this vigilant to prevent text from getting rewritten.

People are blaming developers for bugs that could cost lives. That autocorrect is really annoying.

You need to be aware there's a problem to begin with.

I didn't know auto-correct was enabled by default on macOS, and would never have noticed that the OS was changing what I was typing without notifying me.

I do get the frustration on this, but the auto-correct is pretty simple to "correct" in cases where it got over-zealous. I noted this elsewhere in the thread, but my last name is one letter off from that of a fabric and it has on occasion when I wasn't looking or paying attention, it altered my name on airline websites.

This was an annoyance, and for a long time I was just super annoyed with it until I decided "there has to be a way to fix this", and there was. It was a simple double-tap on the trackpad "Learn Spelling", and it was done. I type pretty quickly too, but I'm also pretty persistent in watching what I'm doing and catch the lines as they appear.

I the case of the article, there's an association now on the Mac between the two words, which I'm pretty sure that "Learn spelling" will override. But by default if it hits a word it doesn't know and doesn't know what it could possibly be, it just leaves it as a red line.

In the end it’s a failure of education. If people could write properly they wouldn’t need autocorrect. Red squiggly lines are useful, but the actual correction should always be done manually by the user himself. Otherwise there’s no learning effect.

I always disable autocorrect on all my devices.

I disagree, there’s times where I fat finger. There’s times where I just have complete brain farts, or have trouble with dyslexia. Auto correct is a savior, and I don’t believe any of these things I listed are a result of this “failure of education.”

Maybe in part, but hitting the wrong key on a mobile device is just a mistake, not a "failure of education".

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