The “political gel” and “the weapons of the skull”



The process of “illiteracy” of readers that is promoted by computerization

I would like to evoke here the process of “illiteracy” of readers that is promoted by the computerization of some media. Faced with what I read in them, I even hesitate in relation to some basic rules of the Portuguese language. Doesn't take preposition? Is the subject of the verb missing? Don't have a concordance error? I am in a frank process of “illiteracy”. Well informed but ignorant. As I assiduously read news sites and watch videos that well-informed people send me, I am already part of the legion of computer illiterates.

How will the young people walk in this story? By living day after day with linguistic barbarities in texts of public circulation, its process of consolidation of the rules that characterize the language may not be completely installed. And if it installs, it can be easily uninstalled, as my personal example shows. Mainly due to the fact that the sphere of circulation, being public, validates and regulates the writing that is presented there.

Let's look at some examples starting with the media which, according to what they say, is the most used by young people and teenagers. When I receive a WhatsApp video with topics of interest to me, I can't help but read the subtitles. Supposedly, subtitles transcribe speech and this is certainly very useful for those who, for one reason or another, do not understand or cannot hear well what is being said.

On the occasion of President Lula's visit to China, I received a Tik Tok video with the president's interview with a Chinese journalist. It was there that I found in the caption the two pearls of my title: “the political gel” and “the weapons of the skull”. A few days ago, I received another video, this time about Dean Cancellier's innocence proven by the TCU. For the rector's name, we had the following legend variations: cancel, cancel and cancel (the latter when speaking of Cancellier at the University of Santa Catarina). For TCU, we had tetium and wove. The delegate became Érica Marina. But it was really good to read Deltanda Lanhol.

It is not, however, a Brazilian jabuticaba. The other day, at a conference by Pepe Mujica in Uruguay, for university students and professors on Latin America, I saw that the speaker's mention of the character Martin Fierro produced something related to hell. also the verb manhole turned into Steal.

As I am not an expert on the subject, I have no idea of ​​the causes of this curious phenomenon and I bring here the questions of a simple reader. I usually formulate two hypotheses, one sad and the other funny. The sad hypothesis comes when I imagine that, behind the surreal subtitles, there would be an outsourced professional who has no familiarity with the subject he transcribes, does not receive any training worthy of the name and his salary follows the demeaning standards of uberization.

The funny hypothesis is the one I prefer: the stupidity of algorithms. I imagine then that it is a computer program that decodes solely by the sound of speech without processing the dimensions of meaning of what is said. This hypothesis is similar to the one that occurs to me when I write on cell phone keyboards, whether for an email message, WhatsApp message, etc. It is enough for us to use a slightly more elaborate syntax or a less frequent word for the standards of frequent users of the technology in question, for the message to be immediately “corrected” and, if we are not attentive and do not act in time to “uncorrect”, there our message goes away with the most unsuspected nonsense.

The algorithmic keyboard seems to prefer emoticon writing. Affections, things difficult to express with words, now have the most varied symbols to simplify our task. The singular character that is marked in the way of saying is over, with syntax and lexicon proper to the one who writes and that supposes, on the other hand, an equally singular sensitivity of the one for whom one writes. Emoticons are quick and accurate to use. They free us from demanding writing that demands time and reflection. There will certainly be the objection that they are playful. Undoubtedly, with them, writing via the Internet becomes a childish game analogous to enigmatic letters. For those who don't remember or don't know, here's an invitation to decipher the “emoticons” below:

This is not to deny the importance of technological advances and the perfection they achieve. In the field of writing, countless algorithmic programs are admirable in their sophistication. Not all, however, dispense with the work of revision by a human subject of flesh and blood. Let's think, for example, of automatic language translation programs that today boast exceptional quality.

The power of these programs is to leave professional translators with definite insomnia. However, care must be taken not to immediately and hastily publish the translated text. Especially in the case of reflective texts that employ specific concepts – philosophical, linguistic, etc. They deserve special attention so that Tik Tok-type barbarities do not occur. I say this from my own experience, as I often resort to this tool when reading or writing a certain text.

Of the different media that receive computerized treatment, one of them worries me a lot: the news sites. In some of them, it seems that speed has become the main law that governs the work of professionals. It is necessary to publish quickly because the competition between sites is great. To give the scoop, to hell with grammar! Certainly a second law is at work here: cost constraints. I imagine that teams are reduced to their operational minimum due to lack of resources to pay professionals. The third law seems to be the limit of space. Titles and headlines are squeezed where they can. Thus, we read multiple absurdities caused by problems such as missing words, absence of subject or verb, confusion of complements and a real war on prepositions.

The simple lack of words can result in sentences that are not sentences. For example, I read on my favorite news site the excerpts below that I have italicized:

Paris shooting: Unrest erupts for second night after police kill teen
June 28, 2023, 20:12 pm

PARIS, (Reuters) - Protesters fired fireworks at police and set cars on fire in the Parisian working-class suburb of Nanterre, hours after President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday lamented the "unforgivable" fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy. during a traffic stop there.

For those who know the story in advance, it is easy to deduce that the text meant that the shot was fired when the traffic police tried to stop the boy.

Another example:

Indian geopolitical analyst predicts 'insurmountable hurdles' for US
July 3, 2023, 15:37 pm

According to SL Kanthan, “the US dollar will be just one of many currencies and vassals silently abandon their allegiance. "

I reread it several times to make sure it's not my reading error. But the same odd fragment from the article's headline reappears in the body of the text. Again, one has to be in the know to understand that US vassals will quietly abandon their allegiance to the dollar.

The frequency with which it occurs tells me that the phenomenon has become naturalized and that no one considers it a problem. If "I understood", that's what matters.

As the reader may have noticed, I am from another time. The one where the teachers ordered the newspaper to be read so that the student would learn to write with the journalist's text. There was also a zealous team of proofreaders who didn't allow a text to come out with even the slightest error. Before the Internet, children and young people were trained to read newspapers because they were a reference for impeccable writing. Journalists, by the way, were proud of their texts and some became famous for their styles. Now, the school is condemned to an impossible mission. After all, there is no teacher who can fight against the mass dissemination of written Portuguese errors in information and communication vehicles.

Apparently, it was agreed that the written Portuguese language no longer needs to obey any rule and I was not warned. In times of artificial intelligence, it is very likely that my considerations are irrelevant. In the same way that children no longer need to learn to do calculations because machines already exist to carry out this tedious work, perhaps they no longer need to learn to read and write. Which means that perhaps one no longer needs to learn to think rigorously.

By the way, it is Yoshua Bengio himself, holder of the 2019 Turing Prize, founder and director of the Montreal Institute of Artificial Intelligence, who expresses his concern in the matter. Faced with the risk that machines created by us become more intelligent than human beings, he says: “I don't know if that will happen. But if that is the case, we can speak of an existential threat. Imagine a new species so intelligent that it looks at us the same way we look at tree frogs today. Are we treating tree frogs correctly?”[I]

Moral of the story: it is possible that soon we will no longer be able to laugh at the stupidity of algorithms. We will then have texts of impeccable accuracy and the written Portuguese language will be saved. It will be? Will there be something missing from the flesh and blood of humans? In any case, I seem to have arrived here at a paradox of my brief reflections in which I will have to “choose between the insect and the insecticide”.[ii] Or maybe the paradox is really the world we live in that makes technology become more and more intelligent and human beings less and less...

*Marilia Amorim é retired professor at the Institute of Psychology at UFRJ and the University of Paris VIII. Author, among other books, of Petit traité de la bêtise contemporaine (Érès de Toulouse) (


[I] from the newspaper Le Monde of June 02, 2023 where it is learned that Montreal is currently considered the Silicon Valley of Artificial Intelligence. The excerpt was translated by me from the original French: On ne sait passi ça va arriver. Mais si c'est le cas, on pourra parler de menace existentielle. Imaginez une nouvelle espèce tellement intelligente qu'elle nous regarde comme nous regardons aujourd'hui les grenouilles… Est-ce que nous traitons les grenouilles correctly? I must confess that I committed “poetic license” when translating. The author speaks of frogs (frogs), but I thought that tree frogs would give a more laughable character to our future condition.

[ii] Caetano Veloso, song occult eclipse from Polygram's "Uns" LP, 1983.

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