IBM's Watson-Based Slack Deal to Benefit Developers Long Term

IBM and Slack launched a partnership that will apply Watson's cognitive technology to Slack's collaboration tools and bots, in a deal to benefit both parties.

IBM Watson

LAS VEGAS – In another effort to advance the adoption of its Watson cognitive computing platform among developers, IBM is partnering with one of the hottest collaboration platforms around today: Slack.

David Kenny, 'general manager of Watson, said IBM is partnering with Slack to provide Watson's cognitive capabilities to Slack's global community of developers and enterprise users. The move will enable developers to tap Slack's digital workplace and Watson to create bots and other solutions using the Watson services and cognitive APIs on the IBM Cloud—including the Watson conversation, sentiment analysis and speech APIs.

IBM and Slack will develop a new, Watson-powered version of Slack's Slackbot for IT and network operations. Slackbots are Slack's robot-like customer service assistants, or bots.

In an onstage conversation with Kenny at the IBM World of Watson conference here, Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, explained his interest in Watson and why he contacted Kenny 10 days into 'his position as GM of Watson.

"When we look at the conversations that people are having internally, a huge number of them are answers to simple questions that don't require any human intelligence or creativity," Butterfield said, noting that it would be "huge"" if the company could have some system that is reading everything at the team level and routing people to the correct information. Or something that, from his own perspective as leader of the company, that could act as "kind of a really smart and incredible chief of staff who's reading all of Slack for me and suggesting the few things that I should be paying attention to today—calling attention to conversations that are interesting to me and separating the wheat from the chaff."

Indeed, if Slack could offload those simple questions to "some intelligence that is taking advantage of this huge corpus of information that we published every day by people communicating, that would be a time-saver that's hard to overestimate the importance of," Butterfield added. "It could be something like a 20 [percent] or 30 percent increase in knowledge worker productivity. That's about the amount of productivity gain we've had over the last 25 years. So that would be a huge impact. That is the Promised Land. That's not going to be simple."

That's how it started. Moving forward, IBM and Slack plan to develop new communications tools for users of the Slack platform, including the updated Watson-powered Slackbot and the IBM Watson-enabled bot for IT and network operations.

Moreover, Slack will adopt Watson Conversation for Slackbot. IBM's Watson Conversation employs natural language technology to enable developers to automate interactions with users, and build virtual agents and chatbots. Slack will use the Watson service to infuse artificial intelligence (AI) into Slackbot, giving the technology more smarts to perform various functions such as the job of assisting IT and network operators.

Also, because the service is based on Watson machine language, it becomes smarter over time as it is used more. IBM and Slack said they will share the things they learn from this experience with other developers.