Thank you for all so much for your questions! This AMA is now closed. Stay tuned for more from us over here at u/wiredmagazine and thanks Ken for joining us!

I'm Ken Kocienda and I invented the touchscreen keyboard autocorrection for the original iPhone. I'm sorry about that … but you're welcome! I was also a software engineer and designer at Apple for more than 15 years. I have a new book out called 'Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs.' Ask me anything!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/sfzih9svh1n11.jpg

Comments: 263 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

SlonkGangweed174 karma

The letter 'b' is right above where my thumb touches the space bar.

Why thebhell cantbautocorrect detect that thesebare twobseperate words?

wiredmagazine133 karma

I don'tbknow!

GersiPanci156 karma

How many times a day do you use "duck" or "ducking"?

wiredmagazine213 karma

Generally speaking, I don't fucking swear. Oh… oops!

gerwen90 karma

Just wanted to say thank you. I know it's popular to hate on autocorrect, but it's seriously amazing technology that helps everyday life be a little bit easier and occasionally funnier.

When I use a touchscreen without it (say while url typing) it's obvious to me how great it is. Your invention makes the world better in a really tiny way.

wiredmagazine57 karma

Thanks!

gdeadfan79 karma

Dose it bother you when people refuse to use youre invention?

wiredmagazine118 karma

Nope. Not at all. If you want to turn of autocorrect, be my guest. Settings > General > Keyboard > Auto-Correction. Turn the switch off. Happy typing!

Oax_Mike48 karma

Why isn't autocorrect allowed to use words that people actually use?

As /u/GersiPanci pointed out, it's absurd to remove the word fuck from the vocabulary when it's got to be one of the most commonly texted words.

What do you think about a password protection "18 & over" setting that can turn on the swear words?

wiredmagazine55 karma

It's in the dictionary. I assure you. If you type it perfectly, it shouldn't change. At least, that's the way it worked for the code I wrote for iPhone 1.0. My code had a strong bias against autocorrecting away from any word in the dictionary. But, if you missed one character, the autocorrect code stepped in.

RocketLauncher14 karma

My main problems with autocorrect is the non swearing and accidentally adding stuff like "becausiwqnt" to the dictionary so that everytime I say "because I wanted to do this" I get autocorrected yo "becauseiwqnt to do this".

Oax_Mike6 karma

My number one problem is that I type in Spanish & English and so it's a pain in the ass to have to type slowly in Spanish and hit the check mark with every word to make sure it isn't autocorrected out.

Fortunately, I'm also slowly adding the most commonly used Spanish words (by me) to the dictionary so some of the sentences I use the most are now in there.

I've looked for a way to add a 2nd language but it seems like you have to have the phone set to one or the other.

If someone has a workaround that will work in my phone I'll happily buy them a beer.

wiredmagazine10 karma

We talked about turning on multiple autocorrection dictionaries at once, but back in the days we were discussing it (pre 2009), we didn't have the CPU horsepower.

Oax_Mike8 karma

It's the thought that counts, Ken.

I'll make do. There are greater tragedies in the world.

wiredmagazine7 karma

👍

BarbecuedRat48 karma

why u do dis?

wiredmagazine91 karma

At least I don't barbecue rats. ;-)

flotador716 karma

Any remarkable instances of your creation turning back on you?

I'd like the idea of you cursing to the heavens because of auto-correct, only to realize it's something you invented.

wiredmagazine47 karma

Just the other day, I was texting back and forth with a friend about our old Porsches. (I drove a 1987 911 Carrera 3.2 from San Jose to San Francisco to the Wired offices to chat with you today.) Anyhow, I wanted to tell him how "clicky" the custom short-shift kit was in my car, but instead autocorrect changed this to "clunky"! Noooooo!

flotador76 karma

LOL, that's a good one.

Now I want to know more about your car. Sounds awesome. I've always liked Porsches; I guess I'd have to invent something as big as auto-correct to be able to get one.

Thanks for replying and sharing!

wiredmagazine10 karma

Air-cooled Porsches are a pleasure to drive. I love mine.

aliassadyahya13 karma

Was autocorrect a result of a shower thought or a result of Steve Jobs' notorious nagging? Also, I know this has been asked a lot before but what was it like working for Steve? Do you recall any specific encounters?

wiredmagazine35 karma

It was a combination of concerted effort over a period of months, but there were a couple "breakthrough" moments. One was when the head of the Human Interface team at Apple.

Greg Christie shouted at me in a meeting to banish the multiple-letters-on-a-single-key design I had been trying. He said, "Awww… come on Ken! Can't you just put one letter on every key!"

The other was an impromptu demo with a colleague, Richard Williamson, when he urged me to turn on autocorrect full time, and as soon as I did, he proceeded to type fast than anyone ever had on our prototype touchscreen hardware.

So, it was a combination of fast and slow feedback.

wiredmagazine20 karma

Of course, Steve was always watching. He got regular demos on all the prototype software for the iPhone. Usually every week. Rarely did two weeks go by (when he was healthy) without him seeing the latest work.

alexrepty10 karma

What did you have to do to support compound word heavy languages like German when designing autocorrect?

wiredmagazine19 karma

Agglutinative languages were a big challenge. Finnish gave me fits! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agglutinative_language

I tried to supplement the autocorrection code with multiple passes to make on-the-fly compounds work better, but since I don't speak Finnish or German, it made it more difficult to know if I was on track.

projectPurpleTwo8 karma

Considering you were involved in the very early days of development for Purple, do you agree with Steve Jobs in that Android has “stolen” key parts of the iPhone that were originally invented at Apple? He had often said Android has taken advantage of Apple’s R&D and considers it stealing and so I’m wondering if you hold a similar viewpoint.

Also, congrats on the book. I loved it.

wiredmagazine36 karma

Thank you for the kind words about my book!

I look at Android this way. to the extent they modeled their work on ours (or even mine), I consider it a compliment. My goal has always been to make excellent products for people.

So, perhaps Android "stealing" from the iPhone results in all boats being raised in the water. Everyone gets a better experience whether you buy into iOS or Android.

wiredmagazine30 karma

Of course, the execs, bean counters, and lawyers may have a different opinion. I can't speak for them.

avipars8 karma

Can you give us a more Computer Science Background on how you got the Markov chain model working locally on an old phone processer and which libraries did you use?

wiredmagazine31 karma

I don't have a CS degree. My computer science background is the equivalent of on-the-job training. I started with my history degree, and I learned as I went in my high-tech career.

There were no Markov chains used in the autocorrection code for the original iPhone. It was a bunch of homebrew I dreamed up myself. Simple code that would perform well on the processor of the day.

hyperproliferative7 karma

I am an oncologist who uses a lot of medical jargon, and to this day i have never really succeeded in teaching the phone these terms or a pile of acronyms. I get no autocomplete either... i have to spell out leiomyosarcoma and TRP53.

Why didn’t you make the damn thing learn how we type? Even just new words. Don’t need complex AI for this, you could even just tap into Wikipedia like the dictionary app does.

wiredmagazine18 karma

Go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement. Add your medical terms and give them a mnemonic shortcut that works best for you. Happy typing!

ItsBeboy6 karma

Hello! Thank you for inventing autocorrect, however I dont use apple products. Where do you see Autocorrect and automated-grammar-correcting tools going in the future? Ai? or no.

wiredmagazine5 karma

I commented earlier that I think AI and ML are the future of features like autocorrect, but exactly what does that future look like? I don't know. If I were still working on keyboards and typing, I would be working hard to find out.

chenglou926 karma

Do you think the introduction of emoji selection and other items such as autocompleting entire contact addresses are worth the trade-off for adding back the suggestion bar?

wiredmagazine6 karma

If you like the suggestion bar, use it. As for me, I don't have QuickType turned on.

alexrepty6 karma

I notice that on numerous occasions, friends of mine who work at Apple quit their job after a few years and take some time off, travel and generally wait a while before they pursue other endeavors. Why did you quit Apple and what did you do afterwards?

wiredmagazine14 karma

I worked at Apple for over fifteen years (just six weeks short of sixteen actually). I have always been more of a 0->1 type thinker. The thought of working on version 12 of iOS was attractive, and it definitely would have given me an opportunity to influence the software that millions of people use every day. But, I already did that for many years. It was time to move on and try something else. I decided to write a book because I had no idea how to do that. It seemed like a good challenge, so that's what I did.

iEzhik4 karma

Hi Ken! I saw you post a bit about the beginnings of Safari on your Twitter, so I'd love to learn a bit more about that!

What was it like showing it for the first time to Steve Jobs? Was there any push back from the higher-ups due to it being based on an open source project? Were there any fun (and maybe not fun at all) interactions with the KHTML developers in those early days?

wiredmagazine5 karma

We didn't tell the KHTML developers about our project until we released it! You can search the net for the announcement.

There wasn't a lot of pushback on open source at Apple. Much less than you might think. Apple has published and contributed to a large number of open source projects for many years. For us, using KHTML was the quickest way to bootstrap our in-house browser project, and once we showed the first demo with it, using KHTML became the POR (Apple-speak for "plan of record").

iEzhik6 karma

Thanks for answering! I actually went and found the announcement: https://marc.info/?m=104197092318639

wiredmagazine3 karma

Yep. That's the annoucement.

chenglou923 karma

Assuming there's an even better way of iterating on products than creative selection, how would we go to find out? Would you apply creative selection process to the process itself works?

(This is my last question here. Thank you so much for answering all of them, and thank you for your work.)

wiredmagazine9 karma

Of course! We didn't start out by saying, "Creative selection is the methodology." We didn't use any set way of working. We came up with ideas, we made demos, and then we tried to improve them. Repeat. We gave each other honest feedback throughout.

The secret to doing excellent work is: there is no secret.

CrispyMiner2 karma

What is your thoughts on sand?

wiredmagazine2 karma

Sand? I'm not sure I follow. But I like going to the beach.

saurabhshri_2 karma

Did you hardcode some words that overruled the dictionary lookup (I am assuming the initial autocorrect wasn't intent based)?

wiredmagazine2 karma

On the original iPhone, every one-letter and two-letter combination had a hard-coded autocorrection. There was a static lookup table. The more sophisticated code cut in once you typed the third letter in a word. That's changed since those early days (obviously).

alexrepty2 karma

One more thing: how do you pronounce your last name?

wiredmagazine5 karma

Kuh-shen-da. Accent on the second syllable. But as a good friend always used to tell me, you can call me anything you want, just don't call me late for dinner!

tycruickshank2 karma

Have the keyboard autocorrect algorithms largely stayed the same since the original iPhone or have they significantly changed and matured? It seems like you and Apple pretty much nailed autocorrect from the get go.

wiredmagazine5 karma

It changed significantly all the time! I stopped working on keyboard code full time in 2009, and my last significant contribution was for what I always think of as "Apex" (iOS 4). But even with the dot updates, there were always changes to code and data.

chenglou922 karma

The recent swipe-based keyboards can be see as taking your exploration in pattern skews and letting the users directly draw the pattern. What do you think of those? Do you think it’s worthwhile for the common phone user?

wiredmagazine3 karma

If they work for you, great! The issue with making a default keyboard for everyone is that the swipe based keyboard had a higher learning curve. Tap-tap-tap is simpler. It's the way keyboards have worked since the 19th century!

BondiBerry2 karma

Hi Ken! I recently read your book. I really wish you would have gone more in depth to the technical details. Btw why didn't you talk about what you did after the iPad keyboard? I think you also worked on 3D touch and the Apple Watch, can you tell us a bit more about what you did?

wiredmagazine2 karma

I decided to pitch my book at a more general reader. I thought I could fill a gap and tell people a little more about how their software gets made. Tech people already know!

I wrote an article about my intended audience for my book. http://creativeselection.io/audience.html

wiredmagazine2 karma

Also, I decided to end my book at the end of the Steve Jobs era. Those times are now long enough ago that it has begun to feel like history—and after all, I was a history major in college!

BondiBerry1 karma

Any hints at least to what you did after?

wiredmagazine4 karma

I worked on 3D touch and the Apple Watch, as you say. I worked on some other things I still can't tell you about.

Blackspider11112 karma

When you use autocorrect, have you ever sent a message and realized that it was changed just enough to mean something completely different and inappropriate? For example...

wiredmagazine6 karma

Different meaning? Yes. Check the scroll back for "clunky". Inappropriate meaning? No. Honestly. Perhaps the typing fates have been kind to me. Perhaps the code knew it was in for a thrashing if it ever made me look ridiculous. ;-)

Em_Adespoton1 karma

Other than promoting your book, what are you up to these days?

Second question: did you lean on any of the back end work/research the MessagePad team did when implementing the iPhone version of predictive typing/autocorrect? While the handwriting recognition on the NMP wasn't much to write home about, I got to see some of their presentations on the back end logic and design, and it seemed to have a lot of overlap with what you guys were doing.

wiredmagazine3 karma

Book? I have a book? Oh that's right! You should buy it. It's good!

wiredmagazine3 karma

wiredmagazine1 karma

A couple of the people working on the iPhone had worked on the Newton as well. We didn't borrow any of the software from the Newton. Although, I think the English dictionary of unigrams (single words) may have been part of the Apple resources I consulted when building the word list for the original iPhone.

wiredmagazine2 karma

Among other things, I can call myself a two-bit lexicographer.

Em_Adespoton1 karma

Well, the unigram and ngram dictionaries weren't actually from MessagePad (just used by them); they developed out of the Macintalk research group's efforts, going all the way back to the days of the Mac Plus. I still use some of those tools in some of the stuff I do :)

I take it from your other response that you aren't doing anything other than promoting your book right now?

wiredmagazine2 karma

I plan to have lunch in about an hour. I try to take it slow.

purpleglitteralpaca1 karma

What is your worst autocorrect? Why can’t my autocorrect realize that I really do mean [email protected], after all this time?

wiredmagazine1 karma

I love all my bad autocorrects. They're my (sometimes wayward) children.

buttersack1 karma

Are you ever told that you kind of look like Bruce Willis?

wiredmagazine1 karma

I'm not getting paid enough.

MajorMajorObvious1 karma

[deleted]

wiredmagazine2 karma

Betrayed? No. The software does not have a mind of its own.

chenglou921 karma

Do you think Apple university is enforcing/calcifying processes you don't think should be explicitly enforced?

wiredmagazine2 karma

Apple University is a wonderful resource. They don't enforce. They teach.

chenglou921 karma

What would be an interesting next step for the iPad keyboard to free itself of the hardware constraints of the keyboard it imitates, while preserving its familiarity to users?

wiredmagazine2 karma

I'm sorry. I don't understand your question. Generally speaking, it's always possible to rethink how familiar software user interfaces look, feel, and function. The hard part is coming up with a new idea that's 10x better than what came before. That's the target we always aimed for at Apple. 10x better.

chenglou921 karma

The ability to put out demos rapidly and consistently seems to be bottlenecked by coding expertise (at least, for the actual interactive part). Any shortcut? Prototyping tools?

wiredmagazine4 karma

Hone and refine your skills with turning work around quickly. I prototyped using Obj-C on iOS. I practiced all day every day on reducing the time needed to go from idea to working code. Often, I would bring my laptop to demos with execs and I would plug a USB wire into the demo device and update the code live.

These while-u-wait demos sometimes worked great. Make an animation a little slower? What might that look like? Type, type, type… well… it looks like this! Done. Approved.

1daBread1 karma

Can you please ELI5 on how autocorrect actually worked when you helped create it? Was it just regex based? Or is there something more behind the scenes?

Follow up question. Did you purposefully put anything funny in the autocorrect library to mess with people?

wiredmagazine3 karma

Read my book! http://creativeselection.io. I tell you in gory detail… with pictures… diagrams… and geeky jokes!

ELI5 version: My autocorrect code looked at your taps and tried to figure out what you meant rather than what you did, taking your touchscreen errors into account.

Honestly, I wanted to put "Kocienda" in the autocorrection dictionary so that it always got spelled correctly, but I resisted!

scaa11 karma

[deleted]

wiredmagazine4 karma

It's hard to remember now, but when I started at Apple in 2001, the company was an underdog! On my start date in June 2001, Apple was still four months away from releasing the original iPod. The company's main product was the Mac, and it had a 5% market share. Microsoft Windows dominated the computer industry. (I like the say MS was the high-tech hegemon, but the Greek word is a little less user friendly, but I digress.)

Steve's vision for the company was to make Apple more relevant in people's minds as well as in the marketplace. The iPod got that started, and the iPhone kept the ball rolling.

Honestly, we had no idea the iPhone would be as popular as it turned out to be.

quaz1mod1 karma

So, when did you decide to devote your life to evil? Just kidding, I get a lot more benefit from autocorrect than annoyance. It's just human nature to only remember the annoyance.

wiredmagazine3 karma

Perpetrating evil has never been a strong suit for me. I don't even smoosh bugs in my house. (I relocate them outside).

Autocorrect filled a need. It made it possible to type on a sheet of glass. Having the keyboard in software also means that it can get out of the way when you aren't typing. So you can look at full-screen photos! And video! And play games!

chenglou920 karma

What do you think of the phenomenon of machine learning in tipping the balance from heuristics to algorithm (or vice-versa)? For example, could machine-learning the text corpus turn your heuristics-driven decision of not changing "ooooor" to "polite" into an algorithm? Can traditional algorithms be seen as a very primitive form of heuristics? In other words, do you think that Google testing shades of blue is really a manifestation of trying hard to bridge this gap, but trying way too early?

wiredmagazine3 karma

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Will machine learning help make for better typing? I don't know. If I were still working on keyboards, would I be looking into ML? You bet!

chenglou921 karma

Thanks. What would have been your process in that situation? Given that ML is very math-heavy. Would you team up with a ML person or crack it on your own?

wiredmagazine3 karma

Nope. I would study up.