If you thought SwiftKey for Android was already smart and intuitive, you’ll be excited to know the company has just finished working on a product which it claims is even smarter. SwiftKey Neural Alpha has made its way to the Google Play Store, and instead of using word frequency calculators (n-gram model) to predict your next words, it’s more contextually aware of the sentence you’re typing…

Ben Medlock, the company’s co-founder took to Medium to explain the motivation behind this new Artificial Neural Network technology, saying that it was always the company’s aim to make typing faster, and predictions better so that you spend less time typing and correcting. They’ve been working on it for years, but it’s only recently they’ve been able to create a solution that works well on smartphones and doesn’t require powerful computers.

In the company’s official blog post, the company states that it works as follows:

Through machine learning based on enormous amounts of language data, SwiftKey’s neural model is able to meaningfully capture the relationship between words. It understands word similarity, allowing it to compare words on the fly. Within the neural model, words can be visualized in ‘clusters’, located at varying degrees of proximity to one another.

This understanding allows SwiftKey Neural to predict words that have never been seen in a given sentence context during the learning phase. For example, having seen the phrase “Let’s meet at the airport” during training, the technology is able to infer that “office” or “hotel” are similar words which could also be appropriate predictions in place of “airport”. Further, it understands that “Let’s meet at the airport” has a similar sentence structure to “Let’s chat at the office”. This intelligence allows SwiftKey Neural to offer the most appropriate word based on the sentence being typed.

The app is still in its very early alpha stage and SwifKey notes that it won’t run smoothly on all handsets. To get optimum performance, customers need to be using one of the latest, most powerful phones. It’s also noted that it’s still an experimental product, and ongoing support and updates are not guaranteed. Despite those caveats, it seems clear to me that this is the way forward for smart onscreen keyboards. It should be a matter of when, not if, the Neural keyboard makes it out of testing and becomes a fully-fledged, supported app.

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