False positives

By | 23rd July 2013

 I am reliably informed that in the Government’s same sex marriage bill currently before Parliament, each one of us is to be allowed to be a husband or a wife depending on how we feel.

In an effort to clarify the terms “husband” and “wife” the bill states that “husband” will “include a man or a woman in a same sex marriage as well as a man married to a woman.”

Additionally, the term “husband” will, in future legislation, include a man who is married to another man (but not a woman in a marriage with another woman.) “Wife” will include a woman who is married to another woman (but not a man married to another man), unless specific alternative provision is made.

Ignoring the seeming absurdity of the language placed before the Mother of Parliaments (I hope I may still call her that!), it is to be hoped that the technology industry will be able to cope.

Predictive coding technology, for example, exists to make it easier to search through and discard unwanted or irrelevant documents by looking at the text and learning from the lawyers’ instructions what they want to keep.

Humpty Dumpty said ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

My fear is just that.

If we start changing the language to say that words which previously had one meaning will, in future, have another and potentially opposite meaning, we run the risk of an increased number of false positives.

How will the technology industry cope with that, I wonder?