49 Machines Are Not Effective at Evaluating Writing

Johana R.

Digitalization is a slippery slope. On one hand, there are the wonders of the internet. Isn’t it lovely to keep up with family miles away, in different continents sometimes? It’s so easy to win an argument in this age because a quick google search proves or disproves a certain (objective) stance. There’s very few things that make me happier than ordering and opening a new package I receive within days. And anyway, I’m a child of the 2000s, I’m intimately connected to digital technology. Even with all my frustrations with it, I could never hate it. But technology is becoming increasingly damaging to us. It is affecting our attention spans, our privacy, and the very scope of our social blanket. And that is something that has to be admitted. Then, there’s the fact that industries keep mechanizing things that have no business being mechanized. Writing for example, has found itself in a predicament. The amount of writing being evaluated by machines is increasing. But evaluating writing and machines do not go together. The value of a written piece, in any format, cannot be determined by machines or computers. Writing is simply too complex to be able to simplify and reduce to the general guidelines that a machine would be scanning for. A machine cannot account for variations in tone and grammatical style and structure. There are certain choices we make when writing that only a human, as opposed to a machine, would be able to catch and understand. Machines are not trained for that. Mistakes that might not necessarily be worth deducting points for are zeroed in on by machines. The introduction of machines in the evaluation of writing sets up the notion that writing could ever be perfect. That there is such a thing as a perfect score and that a machine can give you it. But the core of writing is not to achieve perfection. Writing is rarely if ever perfect. Machines have no way of understanding that, no matter how much we try to code them to.

I mean, take a look at the age old question of how to teach writing. Different professionals will have different answers for that. There are a myriad of different writing theories and approaches out there. Some sound better than others but the wide variety of them says a lot about writing itself. Mostly, how nuanced it is. And if we can’t even decide on how to teach writing then how can we decide on a systematic form of grading it? And if even we can’t decide on how to grade it, how could a machine possibly do so? Writing is not a mathematical analytical field, even if sometimes it is approached from that angle. To me, writing will always inherently be an art and I don’t really care who disagrees. Even when writing is being used for technical documents, for grocery lists, or for scrambled essay notes there is so much human essence that drips from a pen (or a keyboard) and that manages to materialize into words and concepts. A machine will never be able to understand that. At least, not in the way we do.

Yet, high schoolers are constantly burdened with the task of writing essay after essay and not the kinds their teachers read and grade. These essays are the anxiety inducing ones that are time limited and attached at the end of a 50 plus (I honestly do not remember the number anymore! Thank god I’m not in high school!) question test. I remember when I was a high school student taking those tests and how those were some of the worst essays I ever wrote. That is if I was able to even finish them in time. The essays were bland and met the bare minimum in terms of requirements. Leaving the topic of over testing aside, the writing culture being pushed along by these is seriously harmful. It completely changes the way students approach writing. It sucks the creativity out of writing for one. It also sets a notion in place of mechanized writing. It standardizes writing and in turn it becomes simply a task to get out of the way. Writing is not meant to be a task in which the bare minimum is achieved in order to receive some numbered score given to you by a machine. Writing requires care, thought, and work. Students leave high school with that mindset and the ones that find themselves in college sometimes struggle to adjust during the first couple of semesters. They think perhaps it’s the professor being a hard ass. Or that it’s the added stress of their combined work for all classes. And sometimes it can be. But sometimes, more commonly, it’s a culmination of bad habits gathered since before a foot was even set on a university campus. So sure, maybe standardized testing and writing aren’t much of a concern once we make it to college. I’m eternally gratefully those tests are a thing of the past for me, even if it meant trading them for different kinds of college level torture. But it doesn’t mean that the effects of them cannot be seen in college. Students have to unlearn that harmful way of writing and start from almost scratch. And unlearning is almost, if not harder, than learning. It convolutes the entire process.

So much of our lives are spent being evaluated and tracked digitally. The clothes we buy, the memes we like, the places we visit, are constantly being pinged to algorithms that communicate to corporations what our beings consist of. This is how they plan to keep us online longer, how they plan on selling items we are more likely to buy. Digital technology has already permeated so much of what we do, and so much of our writing. Most of the reading and writing we do now is done through the use of technology. But that’s not so bad because it is viable. It works. Usually, it enhances our writing to some extent. Typing things out as opposed to physical handwriting allows us to edit our work much easier. It saves us time we can spend writing more. Tools like word check and online dictionaries allow us to get a better grasp of vocabulary and spelling. Digital technology should always work for us, not the other way around. It should not hinder our writing but rather improve it. It’s why continued use of these digital tools just makes sense. But machines evaluating our writing? That doesn’t make sense. Machines are better kept to fields where there are yes or no answers. Writing is complicated enough as it is for humans, machines definitely cannot handle it.


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Good Ideas About Writing Copyright © 2021 by Johana R. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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