In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield didn’t pull any punches in his criticism of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri.
“Apple spent billions of dollars on Siri and worked on it for a very long time with hundreds of engineers and a huge dataset of voices — and it’s f–ing idiotic. Siri is nearly useless,” he said.
Butterfield said Slack is going down a different route to develop future iterations of Slackbot, Slack’s in-built virtual assistant. The company has just hired its first data scientist and plans to partner with existing AI firms rather than trying to develop its product alone.
Right now, Slackbot is rooted in Slack’s messaging system, and can answer questions, provide tips when prompted and perform searches. Slack also has human writers feed the bot witty lines. But Butterfield compared future versions of Slackbot to Samantha, the artificially intelligent software programme voiced by Scarlett Johannson in the film “Her.”
Slackbot won’t really be a sentient AI. But Butterfield wants to give the Q&A tool better natural language processing and machine learning, so it almost seems that way. That could let Slackbot establish when someone is stuck on a project by scanning Slack messages, and offer help.
Like Samantha, who speaks to thousands of people at once throughout Spike Jonze’s film, Butterfield wants Slackbot to be able to access a company’s internal infrastructure and connect with everyone on a team simultaneously. Then, it would be able to access details of who is working on what project and who might be on holiday, for example. That information could be used to perform mundane tasks like schedule meetings.
Butterfield believes automating tasks like this could boost a company’s productivity by 20-30%. Slack isn’t the only project trying to streamline people’s lives though. Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana also focus on boosting productivity, and last month Facebook revealed that it is working on a virtual assistant codenamed “Moneypenny.”