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Slack CEO denigrates Apple's Siri in announcing work on own team-serving virtual assistant

Slack Technologies founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield on Monday revealed plans to invest in artificial intelligence with an eye on virtual assistant tech for work groups, while calling Apple's solution "nearly useless."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Butterfield said future iterations of Slack's existing Slackbot "robot" will incorporate natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to help deal with tedious work tasks. The improvements, he said, will result in a system more akin to the advanced AI portrayed by actress Scarlett Johansson in Spike Jonze's movie "Her" than competing products from Google and Apple.

"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," Butterfield said.

Instead of sinking time and money into product R&D, Slack is looking to partner with firms focusing on AI technology. To that end, the company recently hired its first data scientist and plans to invest in the artificial intelligence space.

With a next-gen Slackbot, Slack is looking to create a virtual assistant capable of tapping into a customer's institutional infrastructure, while connecting simultaneously with everyone on a team to automate certain tasks like scheduling meetings. The goal is to remove time consuming, banal tasks from an employee's plate, something Butterfield believes could boost productivity by 20 to 30 percent.

Current iterations of the programmable query/response system are largely rooted in Slack's direct messaging application, but the bot also surfaces searches and other productivity-minded applications. Future versions might be able to scan a Slack team's messages, recognize when an employee is having trouble with a particular task and automatically schedule an appointment with higher ups to keep the project on track, for example.

Slack is just one of many tech companies conducting research into natural language processing and machine learning. Apple's Siri is one of the best known virtual assistants on the market, but competing services from Google, Microsoft and Amazon are finding success with their respective platforms. Facebook is also researching its own personal assistant called MoneyPenny, a natural language and machine learning initiative that studies human interactions across the social network's vast user base.