In Slack's vision of the future, it will be totally unnecessary to try to get your inbox to zero every day. In fact, it will be unnecessary to read most of your emails.

The communication software company lets teams chat in real time and share files. Earlier this year, Slack introduced the Slackbot, a chatbot meant to help users navigate the app more easily. Ask the bot a straightforward question about how to use Slack ("How do I edit a message I've posted?") and it will deliver the answer.

But co-founder and chief technology officer Cal Henderson says the company wants to make Slack's artificial intelligence strong enough that it can read through your messages so you don't have to. Come back from a hour-long meeting or week-long vacation, and the bot will be able to summarize what you've missed and highlight the most important messages. The software will use machine learning, allowing it to become smarter and more accurate over time.

If the company's AI gains the ability to sort through messages quickly and deliver only the relevant, important information--or simply to deliver it first--Slack is betting it can help eliminate clogged inboxes and make workplaces more efficient.

"Five years ago, the idea of a computer looking at a photo and telling you what was in it seemed impossible," Henderson told Inc recently in a wide-ranging interview. Now, AI systems from tech companies like Facebook and Google can recognize images, using deep learning to write descriptions like "a boy sitting on a beach next to a dog." Facebook's Deep Text, meanwhile, can already understand the content of messages. It goes beyond simply recognizing keywords, so typing "I need a ride to the party" will bring up a button to hail an Uber, but "I don't need a ride" won't.

In June, Slack head of learning and intelligence Noah Weiss told Recode in an interview that the company is working on making its chatbot a resource for workers. The vision: Ask the Slackbot a question about your company like, "Who's in charge of sales in Berlin?" and it will offer the answer within milliseconds. At the time, Weiss said that employees spend 20 percent of their workdays looking for information about how to do their jobs.

Slack boasts 4 million daily users at companies like Airbnb, Buzzfeed, LinkedIn, and Inc., and is growing at a rate of 50,000 users per week.

Henderson says a workday with less email is not only possible but coming very soon.

"There's so much to unlock there," Henderson says of artificial intelligence. "We're just getting started."

Published on: Nov 23, 2016