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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A team of scientists has developed a technique that automatically makes written sentences more polite.

Why it matters: As the authors themselves note in the paper, it is "imperative to use the appropriate level of politeness for smooth communication in conversations." And what better to determine the appropriate level of politeness than an unfeeling machine-learning algorithm?

What's new: In a paper presented this week at the annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University analyzed a dataset of 1.39 million sentences, each of which was labeled with a politeness score.

  • Using what is called a "tag and generate" approach, those sentences labeled as impolite were tagged, and then new text was generated to make the phrase nicer.
  • So a phrase like "send me the data" would be automatically restructured to read "could you please send me the data?"
  • Sometimes the system veered into outright editorializing, changing a sentence like "their chips are ok" to "their chips are great," which I must say may be more polite but could inadvertently end up sending someone to a mediocre Mexican restaurant.

Of note: The researchers used the "Enron Corpus" as a dataset — hundreds of thousands of emails exchanged by Enron employees and preserved by the federal government during its investigation of the now-defunct energy firm.

  • A copy of the Enron Corpus was purchased by a computer scientist and released to researchers, who have since used it for numerous machine-learning studies.
  • But really, why not train an AI for social niceties on the internal messages of a company that carried out one of the greatest frauds in American history?

The bottom line: This paper is really, really fascinating, and I am absolutely not just being polite.

Go deeper: Rooting out AI bias

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Katie Ledecky in Tokyo. Photo: Ding Xu/Xinhua via Getty Images

🚨: Simone Biles won't compete in individual vault or uneven bars

🏊‍♀️: Katie Ledecky wins gold in women's 800m freestyle

🏊: Caeleb Dressel breaks world record in men's 100m butterfly, 3rd gold

🇬🇧: Britain wins gold in first-ever Olympic mixed 4x100m medley relay

💻: Japan tests teleporting games and "remote cheering"

🏳️‍⚧️: Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletesTrans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

The Olympic events to watch today

Allyson Felix. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

5 events to watch today...
  • 🏃‍♀️ 🏃 Track and field: The first-ever mixed 4x400m relay final starts at 8:35 a.m. ET on NBC. Watch the women’s 100m final at 8:50 a.m. ET.
  • 🏐 Women’s beach volleyball: Elimination rounds start at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
  • 🚲 BMX freestyle finals: Watch USA’s Hannah Roberts go for the gold in the first-ever Olympic women’s freestyle finals at 9:10 p.m. ET on CNBC. Catch the men’s finals at 10:20 p.m. ET.
  • 🏊‍♀️ Swimming finals: Watch Caeleb Dressel go for his fourth gold in the men’s 50m freestyle. Also catch the women’s 50m freestyle, as well as the men’s and women’s the 4x100m medley finals. Coverage starts at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
  • 🏌️ Men’s golf: Round 4 of independent stroke play tees off at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Golf Channel.
Ina Fried, author of Login
3 hours ago - Sports

Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletes

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Asano Ikko/AFP), Ezra Shaw, and Alex Pantling via Getty Images

TOKYO — After 125 years of having no openly transgender competitors at the Olympics, there are several transgender and nonbinary athletes at this year's Games.

Between the lines: While still small in number, the presence of trans athletes has been a major point of controversy at these Games, coming up repeatedly at IOC press conferences and in newspaper headlines around the world.

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