Slack CEO Lydian Jones on Riding the AI ​​Wave

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'We're very different from teams': Slack CEO on riding AI wave

Slack is a widely used messaging platform in the workplace

San Francisco:

Artificial intelligence is transforming Slack, the widely used workplace messaging platform, its CEO told AFP, nine months after taking the most high-profile job in Silicon Valley. Lydian Jones was handed the reins following the departure of co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, who exited two years after his company was acquired by Salesforce, the San Francisco-based enterprise software company.

Life at Slack wasn’t always smooth after the blockbuster $27.7 billion transaction, and Jones, a former Microsoft executive who rose through the ranks at Salesforce in just a few years, was brought in as chief executive to bring stability.

Jones took the job in January, just weeks after launching ChatGPT, letting the world know the superpowers of AI and that Slack shouldn’t fall behind quickly, especially against its arch-rival Microsoft.

“It’s amazing what’s happened in the world,” Jones said of the AI ​​moment engulfing Silicon Valley and the world’s imaginations.

“We’ve launched more features in the last nine months than in the previous 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 AI on everyone’s mind.

Many believe that tools like Slack are the first to be deeply transformed by generative AI, which can create text, images and sounds on demand in everyday language.

Originally designed to facilitate teamwork and internal communication, Slack, along with its counterparts like Microsoft’s Teams, have rolled out new versions supercharged by AI to serve as something closer to an online assistant.

“When I came back from my two-week vacation this summer, I had so many messages from customers and colleagues,” Jones said.

“I asked ‘Slack AI’ to summarize everything, and instead of spending a full day or week, I was up to date in two hours.”

She said this adoption of new AI tools works to summarize all kinds of content or fully automate complex administrative tasks like approving expenses or connecting users to an in-house expert.

Unlike Microsoft, users can also talk directly to generative AI chatbots in Slack, such as Cloud from start-up Anthropic and soon ChatGPT from OpenAI.

This availability of a wide range of third-party apps and tools is “our strength”, Jones said.

“We’re very different from teams… we’re first and foremost a very open platform.”

Comparison of teams is sensitive. In 2020, while still a startup, Slack filed a complaint in the European Union against Microsoft for bundling Teams into its hugely popular Office suite.

With nearly 300 million monthly users, Microsoft’s chat and video conferencing app has surpassed Slack with its 12 million daily active users, according to data from 2019, the last time it was made public.

Microsoft agreed to many of Slack’s demands in Europe, but the investigation by the EU continues and the Windows giant could still face further repercussions from European regulators.

But with a big investment in OpenAI, Microsoft got a head start in generative AI.

But Jones insists that Slack is equally suited to excel in AI because of data quality, a key ingredient in the technology’s magic formula.

“We have all the knowledge of the company on the platform … employees collaborating across different departments, it’s all unstructured data,” she said.

“That’s what makes our AI capabilities so powerful, because there’s so much context,” she added.

Currently, Slack has no plans to develop its own language model, the system at the heart of the generative AI that has made OpenAI a household name.

“We don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel,” Jones joked, reserving the possibility of designing a more specific model one day.

On the more distant horizon, Slack may one day develop highly personalized AI agents, digital secretaries of sorts that inform users about their personal details.

“It’s definitely a promising future. And look, I have a family, I work, it’s very busy… Isn’t it amazing to think that a system can track all of that in one place?”

“But it will take time” to get people comfortable doing that, she said.

“I think there’s a possibility and a desire, but the limit of belief is that it’s going to be a while before we get there.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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