Feb 14, 2024 - Technology

Slack taps AI to summarize your long-winded co-workers

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A screenshot of Slack's AI-powered channel summary feature

A screenshot of Slack's AI-powered channel summary feature. Image: Slack

Slack announced on Wednesday a number of new AI-powered features, including the ability to get summaries of threads and recaps of what's happened in channels.

Why it matters: Slack is pitching the AI features as a great way for new workers to get up to speed and for overwhelmed employees to keep tabs on myriad threads and channels without having to read each message.

Details: Slack AI, as the company is calling the new features, is a paid add-on for enterprise plans and will show up in a variety of ways.

  • In search queries, Slack will use AI to offer answers to natural language queries, drawing on information through the messages and channels that each individual employee can access.
  • Channel recaps allow workers to catch up on unread messages by summarizing what's happened over the last seven days, or some other custom date range. Slack is pitching this as a good option for those who have been on vacation or parental leave, for example.
  • AI-generated thread summaries, similar to channel recaps, offer a way to quickly understand what's happened in a long discussion without having to read all the back and forth.

Of note: Slack is requiring companies that want to use its AI features to pay an extra per-month fee for all users. Microsoft and other rivals allow companies to choose to pay for only certain workers to have access to paid AI features.

  • Slack's approach could make it harder for companies to test whether such features pay off before expanding to their whole company, although Slack says it will offer customers free trials of Slack AI.
  • The company isn't saying how much it is charging per person per month, noting it will vary based on the size of the customer, but says it will be competitive with what other enterprise companies are charging for their generative AI services.
  • Notion has adopted a similar approach, offering its AI features for $10 per person per month, but requiring companies to purchase it for all employees with access to Notion.

The big picture: Slack's announcement is part of a trend among enterprise software and services companies to add generative AI features to their products.

  • They're offering customers an easy, if sometimes pricey, way to experiment with the power of generative AI without having to revamp their data storage or business processes.
  • But some early adopters of the paid versions of enterprise AI (particularly from Microsoft) don't think today's features justify their price tag.

Be smart: Powerful AI tools also add privacy risks. Slack AI won't surface information from channels workers don't have access to, but the feature could cause headaches for businesses that have been lax with channel permissions.

Between the lines: While originally designed as a better way for business workers to communicate, Slack is replete with data on business practices, customer data and other information that can be surfaced through generative AI.

  • "It feels like we were made for this moment," CEO Denise Dresser told Axios.
  • Slack says the new features are saving workers an average of 95 minutes per week based on reports from early users.
  • "We can unlock, frankly, years and years of institutional knowledge in all kinds of ways," Slack product chief Noah Weiss told Axios.

What's next: Weiss promised the initial features are just the beginning of how the company will use AI to make better use of data contained within Slack. "Needless to say, it is the tip of the iceberg," he said.

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