Forget Spellcheck. Deep Learning Can Fix Yer Grammar

by Jamie Beckett

From self-driving cars to environment-sensing robots, deep learning is tackling some of the world’s toughest technological challenges. But it’s not just for gadgets and gizmos; it’s also aiming to fix your grammar.

In honor of National Grammar Day – it’s today – take a look at these sentences, which are guaranteed to rattle even your ninth grade English teacher: Its a scandal! Seven people was arrested at they’re National Grammar Day party, after they set a stack of mispelled word’s on fire.

Can you spot the errors? Don’t worry, you don’t have to. GPU-accelerated deep learning and an automated grammar checker called Grammarly can find the flubs in a split-second.

Grammarly, which is consistently one of the top-ranked grammar checkers, is available as a Chrome or Safari extension, and can be used for Outlook, Word and social media. Like many of the automated editors, it comes in a free and premium version.

Deep Learning Gets Smarter with More Data

Although deep learning is one of many machine learning techniques Grammarly uses to detect and correct errors, it’s a powerful one. Traditional machine learning requires a human expert (or experts) to define all of the factors the computer should evaluate in the data — how to use a comma, for example. This is usually a slow and challenging process.

With GPU-accelerated deep learning, non-experts can feed raw data into the computer, and the neural network automatically discovers which patterns are important. In the case of grammar, it could be the myriad patterns that are important to writing correctly.

“By virtue of having read through and corrected millions of documents and made billions of suggestions, we’ve been able to really refine error-correction algorithms,” said Nikolas Baron, online marketing manager at San Francisco-based Grammarly.

Most of the tools use natural language processing and some form of machine learning to analyze and understand text. At least one other company, Austin-based startup Deep Grammar, uses deep learning to fix your grammar.

“The more phrases you feed it, the more it learns,” said Jonathan Mugan, co-founder and creator of Deep Grammar.

Don’t Throw Away Your Style Book

Grammarly isn’t perfect. Neither were any of the other free tools I tested.

The company let me try a premium version, which caught all six errors above and even recommended avoiding the passive voice in “were arrested.” Its free online version missed just one mistake, which was the best performance of any of the grammar fixers. But that was only after three other sentences stumped both the free and premium versions.

Few of the free online proofreaders would score even a C in a high school English class. The only way to catch every mistake in the botched sentences above was to combine the results of all 10 tested tools.

Perhaps you get what you pay for. Or perhaps editing is one job that robots can’t fill. At least not yet.