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The 2 GHz mind of a computer

Biji T Kurien
Med J Aust 2004; 180 (1): 19.
Published online: 5 January 2004

On completion of a scientific manuscript or a grant proposal, I allow my computer to proofread the written manuscript. It takes its job seriously, silently highlighting words that it does not know or like, and attempting to help by offering alternative suggestions.

On a recent occasion, surprisingly, it passed my name without any comment, and instead suggested, provokingly, that my coauthor’s name, one that is noted in his field, was fragmented, and that it needed to be revised. It continued on its one-track 2 GHz/512 RAM (random access memory) mind, attempting to write a proper manuscript. It felt that “sonicated calf thymus” should be rewritten as either “solicited or fornicated calf thymus” and repeatedly suggested that aldehyde should be replaced with baldheaded. It wanted me to change “lymphocytes were lysed by sonication” to “lymphocytes were lysed by fornication or sanitation”. It even tried to be scandalous by suggesting that trypsin be replaced with try sin, that one should rinse “with demonized (deionized) water” and “that mutterers (multimers) are formed”.

It asked me to change nRNP (nuclear ribonucleoprotein) to nun in a sentence that would then have read “nun was electrophoresed” and also to change neutrophils to Europhiles in a sentence that would have become “the Europhiles were incubated with biotin”.

Sometimes it suggested words that I have never heard or read. It asked me to change cDNA (complementary DNA) to coda and nDNA (nuclear DNA) to nana. I could never agree with the computer that hatpin was an improvement on hapten, that stool could be used for cytosol, or that smut could serve as a substitute for the Sm autoantigen. There are times I think it has some innate commercial slant, like when it suggests that Neutrogena be used for neutropenia or that antigenicity should be split into antigen city.

However, the computer flatly refused to suggest alternatives to words like fluoroisothiocyanate, haemocyanin or isotachophoresis, yet, surprisingly, agreed on words like atherosclerosis, phospholipids, toluene, electrophoresis or ELISA without further comments or suggestions.

The computer clearly had no clue that obeying its directives to write something like “try sin to digest hatpins and fornicated calf thymus in stool, followed by rinsing with demonized water to form baldheaded mutterers, Europhiles and smut autoantigen in antigen city” would not make the slightest scientific sense.

  • Biji T Kurien

  • Department of Arthritis and Immunology, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Oklahoma City, OK, USA.

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