Business Management

Why is everyone talking about SwiftKey's purchase by Microsoft?

Today the news has been full of the story that Microsoft has bought UK AI startup SwiftKey. This is a company which provides a predictive smartphone keyboard powered by AI. It also boasts extensive expertise across the area of Artificial Intelligence. This is just the latest UK AI company to be purchased by a big US organisation.

How much is the deal worth?

According to the Financial Times [gated] Microsoft is paying $250m to acquire the company and the founders, Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock will make upwards of $30m each.

Why is SmartKey interesting?

The company was started eight years’ ago by founders who met at Cambridge University. The company raised $21.59 million funding from Octopus Ventures and Index Ventures, with UK celebrity Stephen Fry as an early angel investor.  It is also famously responsible for the software behind Prof Stephen Hawking's wheelchair.

Why is this such big news?

This is the latest in a string of UK AI companies bought by US behemoths for their brains and expertise. In 2014 Google acquired DeepMind to a flurry of media attention and last year, Apple purchased AI speech startup, VocalIQ.

What does Microsoft have to say?

Harry Shum, Executive Vice President of Technology and Research wrote on the Microsoft blog: “We love SwiftKey’s technology and we love the team that Jon and Ben have formed. That’s why today I’m excited to welcome the company’s employees to Microsoft. We believe that together we can achieve orders of magnitude greater scale than either of us could have achieved independently.”

He adds: “This acquisition is a great example of Microsoft’s commitment to bringing its software and services to all platforms.”

What does SwiftKey have to say?

Founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock wrote on the SwiftKey blog: “Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Our mission is to enhance interaction between people and technology. We think these are a perfect match, and we believe joining Microsoft is the right next stage in our journey.”

Anything else to add?

In March 2014, Ben Medlock contributed extensively to an in-depth piece we did on the future of AI. He told us: “Investment in such technologies is a long term commitment, and we're still far from reaching our full potential in this area. We should expect progress to continue well into the next decade and beyond.”


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