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Slack's artificial intelligence will tell you what you need to know

Now mainly for messaging, Slack will soon be smart enough to talk back.

Slack's AI assistant will be all software, unlike this 1957 prototype.
Jack Taylor / Getty

Slack, the fast-growing messaging app used by three million people every day to talk to each other at work, will one day soon talk back to you.

In time — and it won't be long — Slack will morph into the spinal cord of the office nervous system, connecting numerous third-party business apps, eventually becoming the gateway to a workplace artificial intelligence system that will answer routine questions and proactively seek out information you might otherwise miss.

The vision was sketched out by Noah Weiss, Slack's head of search, learning and intelligence in his first interview since joining Slack earlier this year. Soon, he says, Slack will be talking back in a way that's more advanced than the many lightweight software bots that populate it now. In time, Slack's underlying AI will understand your role inside a company, anticipate your day-to-day needs and act like a well-trained office assistant.

Noah Weiss
Via LinkedIn

The information employees share with their colleagues within their many Slack channels creates a valuable trove of a company's collective memory, one that can be mined for training an AI system about how things get done inside that company and even who does what.

"Workers spend about 20 percent of their time looking for information, or looking for a person who has the information they need," Weiss said. "And we've found that a lot of the questions people have are asked over and over again."

Those questions can be basic — "What's the password to the office Wi-Fi network?" — or weightier — "Who's in charge of sales in Berlin?" In time, Slack itself will be smart enough to answer.

"That's one of our key examples that we're working on, but it's too early to show a demo," he said.

Combine this with the more than 430 third-party apps that connect to it and Slack becomes the place where you get information and then act on it. Approving expenses and tracking projects are already routine tasks that appear in Slack.

As Slack becomes smarter, it will seek out and present you with information that it thinks you might want to know. This will become especially useful as Slack scales up to work with ever-larger companies.

Weiss likens the AI layer to your personal chief of staff. "Slack will know the people you trust and the topics you tend to care about, and over time it will figure out how to better route information to you," he said. "It becomes a robot that's working behind the scenes on your behalf to find things you should know about but might otherwise never see."

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