Slack CEO Is Ready to Ride AI Wave

 Lidiane Jones, CEO of Slack Technologies, speaks during a keynote at the 2023 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, California, on September 14, 2023. (AFP)
Lidiane Jones, CEO of Slack Technologies, speaks during a keynote at the 2023 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, California, on September 14, 2023. (AFP)
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Slack CEO Is Ready to Ride AI Wave

 Lidiane Jones, CEO of Slack Technologies, speaks during a keynote at the 2023 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, California, on September 14, 2023. (AFP)
Lidiane Jones, CEO of Slack Technologies, speaks during a keynote at the 2023 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, California, on September 14, 2023. (AFP)

Artificial Intelligence is transforming Slack, the widely used workplace messaging platform, its CEO told AFP just nine months after taking on one of the most high profile jobs in Silicon Valley.

Lidiane Jones was handed the reins to Slack after the departure of its co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield who exited two years after his company's acquisition by Salesforce, the San Francisco-based enterprise software giant.

Life at Slack after the blockbuster $27.7 billion transaction was not always smooth sailing and Jones, a former Microsoft executive who shot up the ranks in just a few years at Salesforce, was made chief executive to bring stability.

Jones took the job in January, only a few weeks after the launch of ChatGPT made the world aware of the superpowers of AI, and Slack has moved quickly to not fall behind, especially against its archrival Microsoft.

"It's amazing what has happened to the world," Jones said of this AI moment that has captured the imagination of Silicon Valley and the world.

"We've launched more features in the last nine months than in the several years before."

Brazilian-born and living in the Boston area, Jones was in San Francisco for "Dreamforce", Salesforce's big annual event to plug its new products and AI was on everyone's mind.

Many believe that tools such as Slack are first in line to be profoundly transformed by generative AI, which can produce texts, images and sounds on request in everyday language.

Originally designed to facilitate teamwork and internal communication, Slack, along with its equivalents such as Teams from Microsoft, have rushed out new versions supercharged by AI to act as something close to an online assistant.

"When I got back from my two-week vacation this summer, I had mountains of messages from customers and colleagues to catch up on," Jones said.

"I asked 'Slack AI' to summarize everything and in two hours I was up to date, instead of spending a whole day, or even the week."

She said this recourse to new AI tools works for summarizing all types of content or for fully automating complicated administrative tasks, like approving expenses or connecting users to in-house expertise.

Data is strength

Unlike Microsoft, users can also speak to generative AI chatbots directly within Slack from several providers, such as Claude from start-up Anthropic, and soon ChatGPT, from OpenAI.

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

"We're quite different from Teams...We're first and foremost a very open platform."

The comparison to Teams is a sensitive one. In 2020, when still a startup, Slack filed a complaint at the European Union against Microsoft for bundling Teams in its hugely popular Office Suite.

With some 300 million monthly users, Microsoft's conversation and videoconferencing app surpasses Slack with its 12 million daily active users, according to data from 2019, the last time they were made public.

Microsoft acquiesced to many of Slack's demands in Europe, but the investigation by the EU continues and the Windows giant could yet face more fallout from European regulators.

But thanks to its major investments in OpenAI, Microsoft won a head start in generative AI.

But Jones insisted that Slack is equally suited to excel in AI thanks to the quality of its data, the key ingredient in the technology's magic formula.

"We have all of a company's knowledge on the platform... staff are collaborating across different departments, all of that unstructured data is there," she said.

"That makes our AI capabilities so powerful, because it has so much context," she added.

Won't 'reinvent the wheel'

For the time being, Slack has no plans to develop its own language model, the systems at the heart of generative AI that have made OpenAI a household name.

"We don't feel we need to reinvent the wheel," Jones joked, while reserving the possibility of one day designing a more specialized model.

On an even more distant horizon, Slack may one day develop highly personalized AI agents, sort of digital secretaries that know users down to their most personal detail.

"It is definitely a plausible 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 it in one place?"

"But it's gonna take time" to make people comfortable to do that, she said.

"I think there's a possibility and desire, but the trust boundary is going take a while for us to get there."



OpenAI Appoints Former Top US Cyberwarrior Paul Nakasone to its Board of Directors

OpenAI showed off the latest update to its artificial intelligence model, which can mimic human cadences in its verbal responses and can even try to detect people’s moods. - The AP.
OpenAI showed off the latest update to its artificial intelligence model, which can mimic human cadences in its verbal responses and can even try to detect people’s moods. - The AP.
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OpenAI Appoints Former Top US Cyberwarrior Paul Nakasone to its Board of Directors

OpenAI showed off the latest update to its artificial intelligence model, which can mimic human cadences in its verbal responses and can even try to detect people’s moods. - The AP.
OpenAI showed off the latest update to its artificial intelligence model, which can mimic human cadences in its verbal responses and can even try to detect people’s moods. - The AP.

OpenAI has appointed a former top US cyberwarrior and intelligence official to its board of directors, saying he will help protect the ChatGPT maker from “increasingly sophisticated bad actors.”

Retired Army Gen. Paul Nakasone was the commander of US Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency before stepping down earlier this year.

He joins an OpenAI board of directors that's still picking up new members after upheaval at the San Francisco artificial intelligence company forced a reset of the board's leadership last year. The previous board had abruptly fired CEO Sam Altman and then was itself replaced as he returned to his CEO role days later, Reuters.

OpenAI reinstated Altman to its board of directors in March and said it had “full confidence” in his leadership after the conclusion of an outside investigation into the company’s turmoil. OpenAI's board is technically a nonprofit but also governs its rapidly growing business.

Nakasone is also joining OpenAI's new safety and security committee — a group that's supposed to advise the full board on “critical safety and security decisions” for its projects and operations. The safety group replaced an earlier safety team that was disbanded after several of its leaders quit.

Nakasone was already leading the Army branch of US Cyber Command when then-President Donald Trump in 2018 picked him to be director of the NSA, one of the nation's top intelligence posts, and head of US Cyber Command. He maintained the dual roles when President Joe Biden took office in 2021. He retired in February.