London’s Silicon Roundabout is abuzz today with the announcement Microsoft is set to acquire smart keyboard startup SwiftKey for $250m. The San Francisco OS convert has pledged that it will continue to develop SwiftKey’s iOS and Android apps and research avenues for integration with its core technology across its range of products and services.
First launched in 2008, the SwiftKey app was designed as a speedier alternative to the traditional Android keyboard, adopting an idiosyncratic predictive typing system based on the user’s past input on the device and from text sources like Gmail. More interestingly from Microsoft’s perspective however is SwiftKey’s third party SDK, which provides a suite of tools for developers to integrate the company’s natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning know-how into other projects. Notably, SwiftKey has been collaborating with astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to facilitate voice synthesiser technology that runs twice as fast as previous offerings.
The UK based startup also unveiled SwiftKey Neural Alpha late last year – an app which utilises artificial neural networks (ANN) to predict and correct language in a manner which mimics the structure and processes of an average human brain, as opposed to its predecessor’s computational and probability based workings. This particular technology is very much in its infancy, but promises to bring tangible improvements to traditional predictive text capabilities in the near future. Here are a couple of examples posted on Hacker News today of what the alpha will generate based on just bashing the middle button repeatedly:
“I have a few questions for you to see if you can get me a copy of the letter to the office and I will be in touch with you to discuss the position with you and your family are doing well and that you are not the only one I have to say that I am a beautiful person and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you and I love you”
Regarding Microsoft’s new acquisition, Microsoft executive vice president of technology and research Harry Shum commented; “In this cloud-first, mobile-first world, SwiftKey’s technology aligns with our vision for more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands, and directly supports our ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud…SwiftKey estimates that its users have saved nearly 10 trillion keystrokes, across 100 languages, saving more than 100,000 years in combined typing time.”
If nothing else, SwiftKey’s capabilities will certainly come in handy for Skype users forced to use the message box when calls drop out on the now-Microsoft owned chat tool .