In 2001, Steven Spielberg’s film A.I. portrayed artificial intelligence as a way to create android children capable of expressing love for their human parents. In 2021, we’re actually using AI as a way to … um, improve virtual meetings. Not quite the stuff of big screen sci-fi blockbusters, but here we are.
At the start of this pandemic, cloud made the virtual meeting a much more common experience. Now, vendors are using AI to try to make it a much better one.
The laundry list of videoconferencing features enabled by AI keeps getting longer: real-time captioning, transcription, language translation, automatic focus, framing, lighting enhancement and background noise cancellation.
Then there’s the whole background scenery thing. If your home office is an untidy mess like mine, AI can blur out the piles of laundry behind you so it looks like you’re attending meetings from the artful, sharply focused foreground of a Scorsese film. Better yet, AI can completely replace all the unkempt reality behind you with a virtual background resembling the immaculate, totally unrealistic living room from a Peloton ad.
As Cisco’s Keith Griffin noted during a recent virtual panel at Enterprise Connect, many of these things were “quirky, cool features a few years ago, but the world changed and suddenly these became mission-critical features.”
That world-changing shift, of course, was the pandemic. Now that we’re more than a year into it, providers of videoconferencing platforms and apps are using AI to combat video call fatigue, make their offerings stand out in an increasingly crowded field and improve the user experience for every virtual meeting participant, whether they’re at home or back in the office.
To support the hybrid work trend during the pandemic, AI is being harnessed to democratize UX in hybrid meetings, where some participants attend from the office conference room and others attend remotely.
“We see a lot of work needed to make that (hybrid meeting) experience better. We think AI is key to helping that,” panelist Ilya Bukshteyn of Microsoft Teams said during the Enterprise Connect session. “When folks start going back to the office, we’ll see people in (conference) rooms be disadvantaged unless we can use intelligent audio and video to show every person in the room as if they were remote, just to create inclusive experiences.”
For example, Cisco’s new People Focus feature does that by using AI and ML to automatically ‘frame’ each meeting guest in a conference room during a hybrid meeting.
A new videoconferencing platform called Headroom offers a glimpse of AI’s next frontier in virtual meetings. As detailed in Wired, Headroom assesses the emotions of each participant based on their gestures, facial expressions and even the dilation of their pupils.
That sentiment data is periodically relayed to the presenter so he or she can adjust the pace or content of the meeting, depending on whether participants appear to be engaged, smiling, angry, nodding in agreement — or nodding off from boredom.
Mixed reality meetings
Microsoft is bringing mixed reality (MR) to the virtual meeting table. It plans to integrate capabilities from its Mesh MR platform into virtual meetings via Teams and Dynamics 365. According to InformationWeek, people could one day use HoloLens technology to meet and collaborate in a shared, simulated MR environment and “holoport” to virtual meetings featuring their 3D avatars.
For sales meetings
Salesforce just added AI enhancements to Sales Cloud 360. As reported by VentureBeat, video call transcripts can be analyzed by AI to spot certain interactions as well as the names of products, customers and competitors. Sales managers can use the data to see if teams are missing opportunities mentioned by customers in virtual meetings, and tailor sales staff training accordingly.
Other AI upgrades to Salesforce Meetings include automatically assigning action items after each virtual meeting to keep agents moving towards closing a deal. A score is also assigned after each meeting to indicate how well the meetings are progressing towards a sale.
Virtual meeting assistants
Feel like you just can’t be in charge of running another virtual meeting? Nvidia is launching Maxine, an AI-powered virtual assistant that takes care of several tasks during virtual meetings: note taking, transcription, translation, closed captioning, scheduling follow-up meetings and setting action items. Maxine can do all this in the form of an avatar that answers questions in real time and looks like a real person on-screen. (Should they call her Uncanny Allie?)
Nvidia says each Maxine user can choose an avatar that looks just like them. Does that mean you could conjure up an AI virtual assistant of yourself and skip a meeting entirely?
I’m not sure. But if they’re using AI to track participant emotions via facial expressions, just make sure your avatar looks attentive and alert throughout.