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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A startup has developed an AI tool that can copyedit written text with an eye toward specific corporate style and potentially offensive language.

Why it matters: The shift to distributed work means employees are spending more time communicating internally and externally in writing, even as norms for what's acceptable in workplace speech keep evolving.

  • AI tools powered by improving natural language processing (NLP) can help automate that oversight — even if in practice it can feel a little intrusive.

What's happening: San Francisco-based Writer's AI tool scans through written text of all kinds — emails, Slack messages, blog posts — to identify not just grammatical or spelling mistakes, but language that clashes with a company's preferred style or could come across as potentially biased.

  • "We think of ourselves as the single source of truth for language that's been approved strategically by a company," says May Habib, Writer's CEO.

How it works: As a user writes, Writer will highlight problematic or weak language and offer possible alternatives.

  • Write a message along the lines of "Is that the best you can do?," and Writer will identify it as potentially passive-aggressive.
  • Use a term like "blacklist," and it can get flagged as potentially biased.

Details: Customers — which include large firms like Deloitte — can tweak Writer's out-of-the-box style guides to their specifications, says Habib.

The big picture: Writer is one of a number of automated writing assistants on the market, including Grammarly and Textio — a sign of both the growing importance of written communication in the digital age and the growing ability of machines to do some of that work for us.

Go deeper

Exclusive: Substack launches "Writer in Residence" program

Photo courtesy of Substack, Adrian Tomine

Substack is launching a "Writer in Residence" program that will spotlight one new creator throughout their journey in building a Substack for one month.

Why it matters: The company hopes that the residency program will "enrich the entire Substack community" by providing creators and readers with a person to learn from as they launch a new project from scratch, per Hanne Winarsky, Head of Writer Development at Substack.

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

2 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.