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An app that lets you text like the Queen

Mon, 06/04/2012 - 9:13am
Natasha Baker, Rueters

SwiftKey is an Android app that uses artificial intelligence to correct and predict words as they are typed. To mark the Queen's 60-year reign, the company released the Queen's English, a new language module for the app.

"One of the core strengths of the technology is that we are able to take any kind of text and build what we call a language module," explained Dr. Ben Medlock, co-founder of British company SwiftKey.

"It solves a probabilistic problem which is ‘what is the person most likely to say next'?"

The company created the module using its underlying language technology, which processed the transcripts of Queen Elizabeth speeches since her coronation in 1952.

It revealed several trends, including the Queen's avoidance of colloquial contractions such as ‘it's' in favor of the more formal ‘it is', and her tendency to maintain a positive tone in communications.

"The Queen's language reveals that she has a generally optimistic frame of mind and so the words ‘confident', ‘delighted', ‘glad' and ‘please' were uttered 125 times more than her famous ‘annus horribilis,' which was the phrase that she used in the 1992 Windsor Castle fire," said Medlock, who has a PhD in natural language processing from the University of Cambridge.

The app was conceived two years ago on the premise that the problem with typing on smartphones lies in language, rather than in keyboards.

"Smartphones were exploding but people were struggling to do what is thought to be the most important thing you can do on a phone, which is to get your thoughts down into it," he said.

"We realized that the software of the future wasn't just going to sit there as a dumb keyboard based on key strokes. It was going to actively model the way people use language."

The app, which has over one million active users, can also learn from historical text, as with the Queen's English, and also from the user's email, SMS or social media data.

The company is gearing up to release a major update in the coming weeks, which includes several new features and a complete redesign of the user interface.

"One of the key things that we're trying to solve is a problem around the use of the spacebar in typing and we call the technology ‘smart space'. It allows you to type sequences of text without using the spacebar and it automatically recognizes where the word boundaries are," he said.

The company would like to see device manufacturers pre-load their technology natively, rather than having users download the app. It also plans to target the health care sector, where the technology can be used for medical note-taking.

The app, which is available in more than 45 languages, is sold worldwide for Android handsets and tablets for $3.99. The app is available for a free one-month trial.

If the Queen had typed her speeches using the standard English app, she would have saved 46 percent of her keystrokes, according to the company.

(Reporting by Natasha Baker; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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