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Slack uses AI to combat messaging overload by analysing language

By James Walker     Sep 27, 2017 in Technology
Slack's building technology that will tell you how your language changes depending on the time and who you're talking to. CEO Stewart Butterfield said the reports will let you gauge your workplace temperament but the tech might "be a long time" away.
Butterfield discussed some of Slack's experimental projects during an interview with the MIT Technology Review. Search, Learning and Intelligence (SLI), the company's dedicated AI and machine learning team, is working on technologies that will one day create a smarter Slack that's individually tailored to you.
AI features within the app could continually monitor your messages to work out how your writing style changes over time. These might be relatively basic insights, like revealing you're buzzing with energy in the morning but tired in the afternoon, or more complex hidden attitudes you inadvertently express through communication.
One of the areas Slack's looking at is how your vocabulary changes when you speak to different kinds of people. The app could reveal changes in your messages when you speak to men and women, or illustrate the differences in tone when you talk to superiors instead of subordinates. The AI could also uncover communication topics that significantly alter your mood, such as contentious social issues that make you hostile to others or workplace projects that are stressing you out.
Some users might found this kind of sentiment analysis invasive or even alarming. However, Butterfield said Slack's overall aim is to help you get more out of the app and your workplace. The insights will be used to help solve one of Slack's biggest issues: information overload. The app's format can leave people overwhelmed with unread chat messages and alerts, a problem that's directly inspired the creation of newer rival apps.
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Slack could use some of its "organizational insights" to sort meaningful information in chats out of the background noise. Butterfield said a Slack bot could act a "virtual chief of staff" that briefs you in the morning on conversations you need to catch up on.
If the bot finds discussion about a topic likely to make you aggravated, it could leave it out of the digest so you don't end up feeling short-tempered before you've even got to work. The AI being developed in Slack's SLI apps could be a stepping stone to the first messaging platform that truly understands you.
Slack's popularity has rocketed since its launch a little under four years ago. What started as a basic messaging app is now a complete enterprise collaboration platform. During the interview, Butterfield signalled Slack's now thinking much further down the line, looking "10 years" into the future of technology.
The AI projects currently being developed are at various stages of completion. Butterfield teased that the tech will be "very good" within two years, "excellent" in five and "impossible to work without" at the end of the 10-year span. Slack itself has existed publicly for less than half a decade though, a reminder that nothing in tech can ever be considered constant. The next big messaging app could be just around the corner, if another firm gets to AI-powered organisation first or adopts an approach that's more accomplished than Slack's.
More about slack, Ai, Messaging, Information overload, Artificial intelligence