In terms of users, Slack is currently one of the fastest growing companies in the world--and one of the fastest ever. Inc.'s 2015 Company of the Year has more than three million daily users and gains around 50,000 more per week. The chat platform is used by LinkedInAirbnb, Buzzfeed, NASA, eBay, and Inc., among others.

But pretty soon, Slack won't just be a tool that makes doing your job easier--it will also tell you how to do it. That's what the company's head of learning and intelligence Noah Weiss told Recode in a recent interview. Weiss says that Slack is incorporating artificial intelligence into its app to understand a company's inner workings as well as an individual user's role within it. This will let its chatbot provide useful answers to questions asked by employees. 

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

The sample questions Weiss provided ranged from the simple--"What's the password to the office Wi-Fi network?"--to the somewhat more challenging--"Who's in charge of sales in Berlin?" Using deep learning, a way for AI to grow smarter as it processes more information, the chatbot will gain knowledge over time and become more accurate with its answers.

The news comes less than a week after Facebook announced the creation of Deep Text, an AI system the company says will understand the meanings of your posts. The ultimate goal is to be able to offer relevant suggestions, such as selling tools if you post that you're trying to pawn off a bike, or taxi services if you say you're looking for a ride.

Currently, the Slackbot is limited to offering friendly salutations or instructions for setting up new apps within Slack. The app as a whole, however, is hugely popular due to its compatibility with other programs and customizable features, allowing Slack to serve as a desktop central hub for employees. The app's three million users log in for an average of 10 hours per weekday.

There isn't yet a working prototype, so there's no gauge for when Slack might release its smarter Slackbot, nor for how effective it will be once it does. The very imperfect Siri and Amazon Alexa are examples of how far automated assistants have come, but also how far they still have to go.

But Slack, which has poached engineers and executives from Facebook, Palantir, Twitter, and Foursquare (Weiss's former employer) in recent months and was recently valued at $3.8 billion, has as good a chance as any company to create useful workplace AI. 

Published on: Jun 7, 2016