New Google Docs feature to prompt users to use more gender-neutral language

The feature will be launched as part of the tech company's new Smart Canvas collaboration tool

A new feature in Google Docs will prompt users to write in gender-neutral language to avoid offending colleagues or friends.

Writing words such as chairman or fireman into the online word processor will trigger the feature to suggest chairperson or firefighter instead.

The feature will be introduced as part of Google's new Smart Canvas, a collaboration tool designed to make working between the tech major's Docs, Sheets and Slides platforms easier.

Smart Canvas and its features were unveiled by Javier Soltero, Google’s general manager and vice president of Google Workspace, at the Google I/O conference on Tuesday.

The collaboration tool, as well as the Google Docs writing feature, are expected to be available later this year. Google has also updated its developer documentation style guide in a bid to make the language more inclusive.

The updated style guide reproves using ableist language, unnecessarily gendered language and violent language.

Instead of sentences such as "there are some crazy outliers in the data", the style guide recommends writing: "There are some baffling outliers in the data." It also suggests swapping man-hours for person-hours and writing "it slows down the service" instead of "it cripples the service".

Google’s strive to associate itself with more inclusive and conscientious language comes after a string of humiliations as a result of its predictive autocomplete algorithms.

In 2018, it prevented its autocomplete feature on Gmail from proposing gender pronouns after many noticed the technology’s biased suggestions.

In 2016, it tweaked the autocomplete function on its search engine after it was found making racist and offensive suggestions.