The CEO of Slack, the popular workplace messaging platform, has stated that Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing the platform, just nine months into his high-profile role in Silicon Valley, according to AFP.
Lidiane Jones was handed the leadership of Slack after co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield stepped down two years after her company was acquired by San Francisco-based business software giant Salesforce.
Life at Slack after the blockbuster $27.7 billion sale wasn’t always smooth sailing, and Jones, a former Microsoft executive who rose through the ranks in just a few years at Salesforce, was promoted to CEO to bring stability.
Jones took over in January, just weeks after the launch of ChatGPT made the world aware of AI’s superpowers, and Slack has moved quickly to keep up, especially against the original Microsoft.
“It’s amazing what’s happened to the world,” Jones said of this AI moment that has captured the imagination of Silicon Valley and the world.
“We’ve released more features in the last nine months than in several years.”
Born in Brazil and living in the Boston area, Jones was in San Francisco for “Dreamforce,” Salesforce’s big annual event to showcase its new products, and artificial intelligence was on everyone’s mind.
Many believe that tools like Slack are the first in line for fundamental change with generative artificial intelligence that can produce text, images and sounds on demand in everyday language.
Originally designed to facilitate teamwork and internal communication, Slack and its equivalents, such as Microsoft’s Teams, have rushed to market new batteries of artificial intelligence to act as online assistants.
“When I returned from my two-week vacation this summer, I received countless messages from clients and colleagues,” Jones said.
“I asked Slack AI to summarize everything, and in two hours I was up to date instead of spending a whole day or even a week.”
He said this reliance on new AI tools works for summarizing all types of content or fully automating complex administrative tasks such as approving expenses or matching users with expertise.
Data is power
Unlike Microsoft, users can also talk to generative AI chatbots directly through Slack from a number of providers, including Anthropic’s Claude and soon ChatGPT from OpenAI.
This availability of a wide range of third-party applications and tools “is our strength,” said Jones.
“We are quite different from Teams… We are above all a very open platform.”
The comparison with Teams is sensitive. In 2020, while still a startup, Slack filed a complaint with the European Union against Microsoft for integrating Teams with the hugely popular Office Suite.
With about 300 million monthly users, Microsoft’s chat and video conferencing app surpasses Slack with 12 million daily active users, according to 2019 data, when it was last released.
Microsoft agreed to several of Slack’s demands in Europe, but the EU investigation is ongoing and the Windows giant could still face more trouble from European regulators.
But thanks to big investments in OpenAI, Microsoft gained a head start in generative AI.
But Jones argued that Slack is just as well-suited to succeed in AI because of the quality of its data, a key ingredient in the technology’s magic formula.
“We have the entire company’s data on the platform … staff collaborate across departments, all this unstructured data is there,” he said.
“That’s what makes our AI so powerful because it has so much context,” he added.
So far, Slack has no plans to develop its own language model, the systems at the heart of the generative artificial intelligence that has made OpenAI a household name.
“We don’t feel like we need to reinvent the wheel,” Jones joked, reserving the possibility of designing a more specialized model one day.
On the even more distant horizon, Slack may one day develop highly personal AI agents, a kind of digital secretaries that know users down to their most personal details.
“It’s certainly a plausible future. And look, I’ve got a family, I’m working, it’s very busy… Isn’t it amazing to think that a system can track it all in one place?”
“But it takes time” for people to become comfortable with it, he said.
“I think the opportunity and the desire is there, but it will take some time to reach the confidence limit.”