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Microsoft ramps up A.I. efforts by acquiring SwiftKey

Microsoft just bought keyboard app maker SwiftKey, but it's more interested in tapping into the company for its artificial intelligence know-how than for its popular typing app.

"Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Our mission is to enhance interaction between people and technology," SwiftKey co-founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock wrote in a blog post. "We think these are a perfect match, and we believe joining Microsoft is the right next stage in our journey."

Microsoft paid about $250 million for the software and its developers, the Financial Times reports.

London-based SwiftKey's predictive-keyboard app has been installed on more than 300 million mobile devices. The app offers suggestions to users as they type to speed up and improve the accuracy of messages composed on tiny smartphone screens. It has been available to Android users since 2010 and to Apple customers since 2014, CNET reports.

"We'll continue to develop SwiftKey's market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio," Microsoft Executive Vice President of Technology and Research Harry Shum wrote in a blog post. "Moreover, SwiftKey's predictive technology aligns with Microsoft's investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user's behalf and under their control."

The app's predictive ability is seen as a way for Microsoft to enhance its A.I. work, exploring cognitive technologies for speech and handwriting recognition. This would be a step forward from Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant that takes a few pages out of Siri's playbook.

One way in which SwiftKey's technology has been used to carry out more sophisticated functions than just typing involves astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. The famed researcher, who has the motor neuron disease ALS, reportedly uses SwiftKey technology to speak and write papers and lectures.