Skip to main content

This new app uses neural networks to choose the perfect emoji

A new app from Toronto-based Whirlscape taps into neural networks to choose the best emoji while you're typing. That may not sound like an impressive feat, but a long more goes into predicting which emoji you'll use than you think.

The app is called Dango, and it's a sequel of sorts to an app that many Android users may be familiar with: Minuum. If you cast your mind back a couple of years, you may recall that Minuum made a name for itself as one of the smartest keyboard apps on the Play Store — even when shrunk down to a single line, or what creator Will Walmsley calls a "one-dimensional plane." While the keyboard failed to gain enormous market share, it showcased a predictive text algorithm that derived sense from a jumble of letters.

Dango is quite different: it is a floating app that sits atop any keyboard input, suggesting emoji, stickers and GIFs based on what you're writing. According to Walmsley, Dango doesn't just base its suggestions on the words you string together, but attempts to find context and meaning. The key is a neural net that gets smarter the more people use it.

A neural network is taught by randomly initializing these parameters and then showing the network millions of real-world examples of emoji use taken from across the web, like "Hey how's it going (hand emoji)", "Want to grab a (beer emoji) tonight?", "Ugh (angry face emoji)", and so on. At first the network just guesses randomly, but over time with each new training example, it slightly adjusts its millions of parameters so it performs better on that example. After a few days on a top-of-the-line GPU, the network starts outputting more meaningful suggestions.


Dango appears in any app where you are inputting text, unless you explicitly tell it not to. And because, like Facebook's Chat Heads feature, it disappears once its use is expired, system resources are spared and users don't have to contend with opening a separate app. That is why Dango is so much more useful than merely using the existing emoji selector on your keyboard — even those, like SwiftKey, that predict emoji while you write.

Walmsley predicts that apps like Dango represent the future of language, since the proliferation of smartphones have made language much less reliant on text.

Language is becoming visual. Emoji, stickers, and GIFs are exploding in popularity, despite the fact that it's still labour-intensive to use them in an advanced way. Enthusiasts create personal collections of images for every situation and have memorized every page of the emoji keyboard, but the rest of us rely on using emoji immediately accessible on our "most used" menu and sometimes forward a GIF here and there.

The same way Dango predicts emoji it also suggests GIFs, powered by Giphy, or stickers, from packs that the company is constantly adding to.

Download: Dango (Free) (opens in new tab)

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • Emoji must die. Posted from Nexus 6
  • I triggered, just in case!
  • + infinity Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why? If you don't like it, just don't use it.
  • Unless I'm missing a setting, every time I hit the number row on Google keyboard emoji pop up. I do not want to see them, ever. Posted from Nexus 6
  • Have you tried other keyboards?
  • Can someone recommend a keyboard that doesn't have damn emojis above the number row? Posted via Android Central App
  • SwiftKey Posted from Nexus 6
  • They turn grown adults into children. Use words. Also, about my lawn, get off it. :-P Posted via the Android Central App
  • :-DDD Posted via the Android Central App
    for LG G3
  • agreed, use your big person words!
  • Also, I can't stop other people from sending them to me. I have to try and figure out what the hell they are trying to say or what emotion they are feeling at any particular time. Got no time for that nonsense. If you feel like poop, tell me you feel like poop. Posted from Nexus 6
  • I feel like Lenny ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
  • +100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 Sent via Tandy Color Computer
    before you see the light, you have to deal with the darkness
  • I kinda agree. Some people are annoying with them, I have friends and family who "type" about 6 emoji for every message :/ Posted via the Android Central App
  • Oooh, this looks interesting. I wonder where they're pulling their gif suggestions from and if they learn over time (skewing towards Disney, for instance)... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Ha HA! Of course!
  • A neural net for emoji. Another example of what's wrong with almost all of the current tech world: totally focused on giving self-absorbed morons yet another way to "express" themselves with somebody else's invention. Do irony-loving millenials get the irony here? I doubt it. Another pathetic waste of time, mental energy and resources
  • Completely agree! Reminds me of this article today about Generation Snowflake! ;P On second thought it could be worse, a neural net (Skynet) for autonomous killer robots!
  • It doesn't seem to work in regular apps. Just messaging from what I can tell. Bummer. I am a fan of SwiftKey's emoji prediction so I can use emoji in places like calendar and todo list entries. I've switched back to the Google Keyboard recently since they added a few things I like. I'm trying to wean off SwiftKey in case Microsoft does what they always do with apps they purchase and swallow the good parts into their stuff and kill off the app. If the Google Keyboard had emoji prediction it would be a good replacement for SwiftKey (for me at least). Especially since theming is coming in Android N.
  • Can't wait until I can use this in my business communications. I'll have to update my resume....
  • I wonder how well it'll handle sarcasm. Posted via TCP/IP
  • Any free keyboard that's fast and offer auto complete emoji or emoji suggestion as in windows lumia phones. Tried ai.type but it's slow and bulky. I liked Google keyboard as it's fast. But i need auto emoji suggestion or selection. Swift key. Is it memory hungry? Posted via the Android Central App