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Microsoft Is Acquiring London’s AI-Driven Swiftkey for $250M (techcrunch.com)
262 points by rahulshiv on Feb 2, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

Hitting the middle button on SwiftKey "neural alpha" 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

This is from my swiftkey.

I am a very good to see you guys and meet Steph said she needs to find her copy of Banjo Kazooie the same spending power of the beach and will be working with JavaScript as well as the anticipated time and additional fees involved in the future and to see our contact information please click here to help you with your app and activate Inbox by Gmail on that account I deploy to the repo if you want to take open source tools to handle it though I have a digitalocean account I deploy to the repo if you want to take open source tools to handle it though I have a digitalocean account I deploy to the repo if you want to take open source tools to handle it

My girlfriends.

I am trying to get a chance to win the game is at the cough and I will be assisting them in developing an online patient care system where doctors will have a secure system to access patient files outside of the office and I don't know if you need any more information on the landing page and the other hand I am not only hardworking but ready and excited to learn about the cosmetic chemistry field of study of the month of the month of the month of the month of

How often are you talking about Banjo Kazooie?

I'd assume a good amount if Steph can't find her copy of it ;)

I am a robot is a good question is whether they are willing to pay enough to make the juice worth the squeeze in a few days ago and I kept meaning to take it to the post office is located in the city of the time and a half is leaving for an archeological dig in the Outer Banks and other things that I have been sent by God to bring social skills to the neckbeards of Reddit email this morning and the fumes were still really strong and it sounds like you to know if you want to get together and send an emissary to travel to Rome to ask that the Vatican support our plans to retake the town where I grew up in the numbers until next week and I just woke up at the end of the quarter when annual bonuses were disbursed the same time as a result of the time and a half is leaving for an...

"I have been sent by God to bring social skills to the neckbeards of Reddit"?!?!

I want that to be a generated sentence so much.

"I am wondering if you can send me a price list of your shaving brushes and I will be meeting up with him later today or tomorrow morning and let my guy know we should start on it as soon as possible to get the domain in the morning"

This is unsurprisingly accurate.

That's kinda sweet, given what they must have trained the network on. Lots of people say I love you!

Doing the same for iOS's built in keyboard:

The first half of the day before I get a follow back on my way home from work to be the first half of the year of high quality of life and the first half of the year of high quality of life and the first half of the day before I get a follow back on my way home from work to be the first half

Or in German (seeded with "I"):

Ich bin nicht so viel zu viel für mich nicht so viel zu viel für mich nicht so gut und dir auch ein paar Minuten vor Schluss machen wir uns in den nächsten Wochen in den nächsten Jahren nicht so viel wie geht das auch noch nicht einmal mehr die Kraft des faktischen der Stadt zu gehen oder nicht mehr zu sagen das es dir gut gehen lassen und dann auch die Möglichkeit zu Hause zu sein scheint es nicht so gut und dir auch ein paar Minuten

Google keyboard:

I am not sure if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns ...

The information in this incoming message is not intended or the taking a look forward to meeting you in the next few weeks ago but I think I will be a good idea to have a few days and I have a good time and consideration of my friends and I will send you the best time to meet with the site and I I am not a problem for me and I.

The second one is when I alternate between options sequentially.

Google still has a bit of work to do I think.

Bizarrely, I get identical results to yours, both when hitting the center option over and over, and when going back and forth sequentially.

Have we both opted out of using our personal data to train our keyboard leaving only the global defaults or some such thing? I am sure that I don't type "please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns" particularly often.

Mine is on, just checked. I don't think it uses any smart forward checking based on sentence structure. I notice that once I select a certain word, the next suggestions are the same regardless of preceding words.

Maybe TensorFlow could be used here in future.

matched here too, i have exact same.

that is amusing.

there isn't swiftkey but on Windows Phone but there is some native predictive typing which is pretty good - i try to remember to use it because it's actually useful at times but more often than not i revert to simply typing out all the words out of habit instead.

I am a bit tied up on my other projects and it is a bit of a Twittervision clone of the code to a new project to avoid filling up gmaps the same as the diff tool for Windows and Mac is Araxis Merge onto I am a bit tied up on my other projects and it is a bit of a Twittervision clone...

Not nearly as interesting as some of the others here!

I use this feature to send drunk messages all the time. Well, used to, now I don't have swiftkey installed due to poor performance (even though the new devices are more powerful).

This has a very protomolecule-in-Leviathan-Wakes feeling to it.

Heh, or Rorschach from "Blindsight". Either way, word salad and psuedo-natural speech remain a bit disconcerting and it's interesting how our language processing can pick it up fairly easily (compared to computer analysis).

This is from Apple's default keyboard:

The fact I can see it as well be the first half of the year and I don't think that I have a great way for a few years back on my way home from work to be the first half of the year and I don't think that I have a great way for a few years back on my way home from work to be the first half of the day after a while ago but the first half of the day after a long day at the same thing to say I have a good idea but it was the best of the year of high quality of life and the first half of the day I have a good idea but it was the best of the year.

It always starts looping with "I love you", but I only type those once or twice a day. I'm not sure why it always ends up falling to that.

If you type this exact phrase once or twice a day, it's probably in top 10 of things you type in.

Yeah but I don't type "I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you"

Hilarious! This tells a lot about me :) From my SwiftKey middle fi^H^Hbutton:

I just got me an email to a friend of mine and I will be a good address is being used to be a new pilgrimage site in the office at around 10 the same time not managing to deliver the best way to get the maximum out of it and to avoid too much hassle in organization and I will be a good address is being used to...

It's a good acquisition in that it's a great product used by many people.

I can't help thinking about the privacy angle - Microsoft gets to capture everything you type into your Android keyboard.

And yes I wear my tinfoil hat often.

Not only that; you can (significantly) enhance SwiftKey's predictions by giving it access to the archives of your gmail, facebook, etc. accounts. One would hope that Microsoft would at least use that data in an anonymized fashion, but regardless, the value would obviously be huge. I was surprised it wasn't listed in the article where it outlined the the value Microsoft would get from the purchase.

Having worked on this, the data is converted into your own personalised language model per account and then sent down to the app (at least when we worked on it, the data wasn't aggregated/stored).

Last time I checked, SwiftKey had an explicit option to cloud sync your data, or keep it device-only. I am not sure if any newer versions of SwiftKey have removed it, but that's always been a specific choice I've made on SwiftKey installs.

Since it is a proprietary software, did you reverse engineer it to see if it really does what you think?

Or have you used some packet sniffer, like Wireshark and analyzed the network traffic extensively?

Unless you do those things, you're still at their mercy. Not that it matters too much, since Google already has access to anything you do on your Android phone, and I don't think Microsoft is "worse" than them...

On iOS the OS limits network access to keyboards unless you explicitly approve it.

Of course on Android, Google refuse to do anything about privacy controls.

Really? I've got quite a few permissions that I can allow or deny on a per-app basis. Admittedly, "network access" is not included in the default list which I assume is a way to keep people from breaking app functionality (for better or worse) but there are several third party apps that let you toggle network access permissions. Not quite as nice as something built in but if you're the type to go into settings and modify app permissions, you're probably also the the type who doesn't mind grabbing an app from the Play Store to do the same.

I tend to root my Android devices so that I can install XPrivacy, which gives me very fine-grained access controls for apps. An alternative approach that I have also used for some devices is to install Cyanogenmod, which often comes bundled with PrivacyGuard that also provides fine-grained access controls.

We don't know Microsoft isn't worse. And even of it isn't maybe it's better to limit the number of companies with extensive collection of our personal data.

We don't know that Microsoft is worse, but we do know that Google's entire business is based on surveillance and personalized advertising, and that it's an insignificant part of Microsoft's business.

That's true.

But their efforts in that direction are very significant. And we know that AI tech requires massive data collection. And microsoft seems determined as ever to improve Bing(and Bing ads). And Bing Ads(which is also responsible for Yahoo's search ads) , according to some reports , may have 20% of the U.S. search ads market.

And leaving money aside, Bing and Bing ads may be of strategic importance to Microsoft. So if microsoft would have chance to sell our data to advertisers , it will do so , i have no doubt.

Also they could have easily marketed Bing as a search engine with higher privacy level, or at least higher privacy level for sensitive stuff like medical etc. But they didn't.

You realize that Bing ads are actually sold by AOL?

Microsoft more or less gave up on the ad businesses in 2012 when it wrote off $6.2bn over its purchase of aQuantive. http://www.informationweek.com/it-leadership/microsoft-ad-bu...?

I think they sold the display ad business to AOL but kept the search ad business.

"Under the terms of the agreement, both companies would benefit. AOL would take over management and sales for the majority of the advertising on Microsoft’s gaming, mobile, and web products. In exchange, AOL would make Bing their search engine of choice instead of Google—a significant boost for Bing since AOL still has 2.2 million dial-up subscribers alone (yes, even in 2015). AOL would also extend job offers to more than 1,000 Microsoft employees working in the adtech space. Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Microsoft will continue to have an advertising division with a much smaller portfolio. Additional Microsoft responsibilities were handed over to another adtech firm, New York’s AppNexus." [My itals]


Microsoft really isn't in the ad business in any significant way nowadays....

I did that too, but I'm checking for that option now (after a few SwiftKey updates) and I cannot seem to find it in the application.

I was very upset when I saw this. It took me forever to find the right "keyboard" for my phone, and now Microsoft owns it.

You use Android by Google and you worry about Microsoft?

Honestly, I think Microsoft or any large company on FCC's radar and media's radar is better option than some company in a distant country.

I'm in Europe, the US is a more distant country than UK, both from a geographical and legal point of view.

Plus there's NSA and shady government practices in US (even though UK is probably sharing whatever they can with the NSA).

Yes, as a person from UK you should absolutely be worried about US government's shady and unethical practices and put pressure on your government to pass various laws that would protect you.

And how has being on the FCC's radar stopped Microsoft from their unethical spying and total lack of concern for people's privacy? (mainly via Win10)

The Financial Times says:

"Nonetheless, one person close to the company said the sale price was lower than investors might have hoped for a couple of years ago, when Swiftkey was among the most popular smartphone apps in the world."

It is an unfortunately timed exit.

If they had sold even a year ago, they could have done much better.

Awesome exit for them but, darn it, there goes another great app. Destined to become a shadow of its former self.

Yeah, another entry for ourincrediblejourney.

Wow that was my first time looking at http://ourincrediblejourney.tumblr.com/ . Is their some template you fill out for your blog whenever you get acquired?? Seriously: copy, past, repeat.

I would guess that startup founders have no idea what to say upon getting acquired, so they google around to see what other startups have said.

Accurate. I would bet most aren't even written by the startup founders themselves.

I would definitely take that bet. Startup founders for the most part, even ones accepting 9-figure acquisitions, don't tend to have people ghost-writing their blog posts. (Dedicated writers on their team maybe, but not authoring blog posts with the founders' by-line.) I agree with your parent though.

I love the crud out of this blog, and I've submitted a few things to it myself. It just doesn't apply to this Microsoft purchase. At least, not yet.

Incredible journeys are when a purchase is immediately couple with a shutdown of the app. We've seen no sign that's happening at this point, and with the size of its install base (half billion users in one form or another), it'd be a crazy mistake for Microsoft to make.

Not immediately. It can be used when an app is later shut down after a small to moderate period of time; it doesn't have to be immediate.

Microsoft has already launched dozens of apps on Android and iOS, and there are several it has already bought in. That's part of its cross-platform strategy.

There's no guarantee that Microsoft won't rename an app, or incorporate the technology into an existing app, but it has no reason to pay $250m for something just to shut it down...

In this case, the acquisition was by Microsoft's Technology and Research division, not a product or service group. It seems like the goal is to integrate SwiftKey technology into many of Microsoft's mobile applications.

I haven't liked their design for a couple of versions now so I keep several old versions around. MS can do as they please.

Is it just me that I find Microsoft implementation of swype typing better than swiftkey on iOS (I haven't used Android). I hope they are using the buyout for swiftkeys spread on android and iOS, or to get more information about what users are searching/typing. And I hope we can see the AI on Windows 10 swype feature percolate into swiftkey products.

There is no other keyboard out there which can predict multiple languages without clumsy language switching.

Fuck, now all the data will be mined by Microsoft. Another great product FUBARed, just like Sunrise.

As a person who has and uses (lightly) a Windows Mobile phone running the Windows 10 beta, I'd love to see it become a/the keyboard option on there. The native keyboard isn't terrible once you learn some of the things it can do, but it still pales in comparison to SwiftKey, and I don't even make full use of the predictive buttons because I'm so used to sweeping.

I'll note that in the search / address bar of Firefox, if I type "ne" the three options it predicts are "ne", "news.ycombinator.com", and "news.google.com", where the same entry in a text field gives more expected values.

I've honestly found my SwiftKey experience getting significantly worse over time to the point where I'm ready to drop it entirely.

The predictions/autocompletes just seem completely batshit crazy compared to when I first started using it.

Although if Microsoft are the new owners of the software then I'm definitely going to drop it anyway.

Why would you leave just because Microsoft bought it?

I really like their Android launcher - Arrow: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.microsoft.... and so I'm confident that they can make a good go at it.

I've been really turned off by the way they have behaved lately, in particular the way they handled the push for people to adopt Windows 10. I upgraded myself (I'm a gamer, so basically just for DX12).

1) Autodownloading it to people's machines ignoring any user choice not to do so.

2) Auto-starting the the install/upgrade process without any input from the user.

3) Making user-hidden Windows 10 (and Windows 7/8 telemetry) updates available again, over and over.

4) Resetting privacy settings after Windows 10 updates

5) Refusing to clarify what is actually in Windows 10 updates,

6) And just flat out refusing to allow their users to turn off the telemetry and advertising in Windows Store apps altogether.

Every once in a while Microsoft seems to start behaving themselves and improving on their old, shitty image. Then stuff like this happens, where 'honest mistakes' that just happen to be very much in their interests occur over and over again in a short space of time over the course of the initial adoption of their new software.

I get that they stand to make a lot of money having as many people as possible on their new platform but when it comes at the cost of ignoring user choice, siphoning off their data and just not telling them what updates are doing to their systems then it's time to call bullshit.

They're completely full of it and they haven't changed at all.

I'm 100% convinced SwiftKey will become the next tool in their new user data-based business model, so I won't use it anymore. Just like I stopped using WhatsApp when Facebook acquired it.

Wow. People don't talk about it too much in the same breath as all of the new trendy AI stuff, but Swiftkey has been doing incredibly smart input work for years, and is probably the most actually-useful AI app available for Android. I think I had it since it's earliest days, like 2009 or 2010?

In what way is it better/different, compared to the default Google keyboard (which is not too bad, either)?

It's hard to tell exactly without knowing what's going on under the hood, but what has significantly got better in recent months for me is:

- Individualized predictions (it clearly picks up things I often write, including slang and abbreviations)

- Multi-words predictions ("What time" completed by "is it" instead of "is", "it")

- Context dependent predictions: predicts email addresses when I'm in the "To" field of an email, predicts an URL when I'm in the browser's omnibox, etc.

- Multi language support (I can mix English and French in my texts... Happens all the time)

> - Multi language support (I can mix English and French in my texts... Happens all the time)

That's a killer feature for me. Changing keyboard languages every time gets old fast.

> - Context dependent predictions

Actually, that’s not a feature of the IME/Keyboard.

The dev of the app has to set textUri, or textEmail, or textShortMessage on each field.

Here’s a list of all contexts possible: http://developer.android.com/reference/android/widget/TextVi...

The app provides the context id, SK provides the predictions, using context-specific models.

Yes, but that’s not much of a feature. You don’t have to detect anything, you can just use a different prediction model for each context, and train each separately.

Are you kidding? The default Google keyboard doesn't remember what I type! I go to gym and type "lat pulldown" - I've done this at least 50 times, yet each time I type "lat p" it cannot figure out that what I want to type.

It's trying to tell you that you should be doing pull-ups or chin-ups if you want your upper back to look decent.

I'd like to know as well. I used to use SwiftKey a few years back and loved it. I switched to a Windows phone for awhile then back to my Android. After using the stock Android keyboard for a few months I thought I'd try SwiftKey. Without question, I found SwiftKey required far, far more corrections than the WP or Android phone did. I had to stop swiping at least twice as much to fix an incorrect word.

I just thought that other keyboards had sufficiently caught up since I stopped using it, and SwiftKey didn't improve. What did I miss?

So, a big part of what makes SwiftKey work as well for me as it does is the learning features. I use those features to scan my Facebook / Twitter / E-mail, and it's able to learn how to predict my typing quirks better than anything else I've ever used.

Is it possible that you skipped that step?

Very possible. I just installed it and started typing as per normal, I didn't do anything special to make it learn my style. Unfortunately the first (and only) two days I used it the output just wasn't good enough. Maybe I'll try it one more time and stick with it for two weeks while exploring learning options.

I tried it on the iPhone and gave up on account of its sometimes rather imaginative interpretations of what I was trying to say. I think it can be quicker but a bit unpredictable.

You need to use it for a while to see better predictions. If you type in the same way often, it gets really really good at doing the typing for you.

It writes whole sentences for me with maybe a few letters of guidance sometimes. It's just immensely smarter than any other predictions I've seen.

Multiple languages without switching sold it to me 6 years ago. It also smartly scans the SMS messages which means it will learn how I write casually in a dialect of my mother language, not just the dictionary version of it.

No other keyboard did that.

Same here. The seamless multi-language support is reason enough for me to use swiftkey.

I'm using SwiftKey constantly for normal typing, and it's got a great autocorrect feature. Not using the AI (word suggestion/prediction) at all. Yet it drives me regularly insane, especially when typing technical terms, abbreviations and http addresses, because it just refuses to accept that there sometimes just has to be NO space after a dot. Also writing uppercase seems to be a hard task for SwiftKey. I'd like them to enhance the AI this way: if SwiftKey recognizes permanent violations of their built in rules, just ask the user if he wants SwiftKey to ignore certain rules. I assume something can be configured, but I didn't even bother searching for it (because lazy and afraid to get lost in the huge settings menu).

Correctly configured/tagged text input fields usually don't have these issues (Android) and makes SwiftKey behave correctly.

But in Chrome (for example), the address bar is not only for URLs, so your mileage may vary.

This is frustrating, Microsoft announced that they were going to port the excellent Windows Phone keyboard to iOS and I was hoping it would come to Android too.

Windows Phone's predictions was nothing much, though. SwiftKey is capable of supporting multiple keyboard layouts, their magic is that prediction software. It's entirely possible/likely that Microsoft will take their layout that people like, and offer it with SwiftKey as the predictive text feature attached to it.

I find the windows phone keyboard suggestions much better than any other I've used. Despite now having an iPhone 6s from work I still use a WP as my daily go to because it's much better at writing a whatsapp or email message, even if the 'other' apps suck.

I'm also heavily dyslexic, so I might be an outliar.

I've recently switched from a Windows Phone back to an Android one, and from my experience WP keyboard suggestions are usually more on point compared to the Android ones. Only thing I miss about the old phone, really :-) I will be trying SwiftKey now.

IMHO, the stock keyboard on Surface devices is barely functional. It looks nice but lacks a lot of features that I am used to from my (non Microsoft) mobile devices. I am hoping this acquisition is a move to improve that technology.

For me Swiftkey was a favourite until it broke in so many subtle and not so subtle ways: insisting on changing i to I (i is the local word for in so incredibly frustrating), other times it will split combined words making me look like an English-speaking or worse, local teenager. No amount of tweaking, correcting, updating or even filing bugs seems to work.

So now I use the default keyboard.

Just uncheck Autocorrect. Makes it so much more useful (for Scandinavian languages and multi-language modes), even though it requires a bit more mental presence when typing.

> Here’s how SwiftKey works:

That video was not the explanation I was hoping for, but a voiceover ad...

I wonder if this is going to have implications for Swiftkey's privacy policy and data mining etc. if Windows 10 is anything to go by...

Okey. I'm trying Fleksy then.

Congratulations to the team at SwiftKey!

I know there's a high concentration of awesome engineering talent there. So I wonder whether this acquisition is primarily for the talent or for the potential monetisation opportunities?

Ahhh I can't stand swift key. Windows flo or what ever it is kills this already. Swift key doesn't learn and consistently suggests wrong words even after 2 years of use.

Personal opinion.

Sad that after all those years Apple/iOS still doesn't have a keyboard with swypeing and voice input combined, or did I miss anything?

...SwiftKey. It's available on iOS as are many other third party keyboards although admittedly the integration isn't great. As for voice input iOS has had that in the built-in keyboard for 3 or 4 years.

Yeah, but all iOS Keyboards have serious stability problems. I'm sure that it's Apple's API's fault first, and hope that MS's resources help iron things out, but its really frustrating.

Integrating Cortana into the keyboard could be interesting though, would like to give it a spin if more convenient than it is today in comparison to Siri.

You're right the integration of third party keyboards is awful. I spend more time trying to get the right keyboard to show that actually using the thing.

Absolutely ridiculous price for something most people don't even know about.

Just uninstalled it.

If you have the app installed I would suggest turning off auto-update from the store so that you can keep the keyboard as-is before Microsoft starts meddling with it.

Eh. Microsoft hasn't really messed up the previous Android apps they have bought. I feel people have more issues with all data going to Microsoft now.

They've made it clear they want to be a viable presence on Android. Ruining an app like SwiftKey isn't in their best interest. But hating on Microsoft is still popular for some people.

Yeah the forced Windows 10 adoption despite being a bag of dicks plus added telemetry practices with dark patterns make them a very well suited buyer for an app which can collect all typed data on your smartphone.

Yea I'm an irrational "hater". I'll just leave this here http://appadvice.com/appnn/2015/10/microsoft-announces-plans...

You never know what these giant companies will do. But whatever, it was just a suggestion. I don't care if you install the new Microsoft Swiftkey updates.

That's not really evidence of your rationality, if that's what you were hoping to prove.

i thought MSFT was merging in Sunrise features into Outlook, which I find to be terrific on iOS for mail and calendar


I just did the same, but the problem is that (I only suspect here without research) the keyboard calls home every so often so your data isn't yours anymore.

I am now searching for a new keyboard...

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