The many ways AI is transforming workplace collaboration

 In IT News/Events, News, Solutions

I’ve been attending Infocomm, the annual Pro-AV conference, for years. In all that time I have never seen innovation move at this trailblazing pace, and we have AI to thank for that.

In December 2017, Amazon debuted a series of Alexa for Business integrations that demonstrated the potential for Natural Language Processing (NLP) in the conference room. We watched as someone on stage said, “Alexa, start my meeting,” and the call began. As excited as I was, I also wondered how long it would take for this technology to be practically used in the conference room.

Well, it didn’t take long. Now, just six months later, you can control most of the core features of Cisco Webex’s meeting service with voice commands. Polycom is embedding Alexa into all of its devices. NLP in the conference room is here, and quickly making the meeting room easier to use.

Smart cameras focus in on new possibilities

Cameras are getting smarter too. One of the most captivating demos I saw at Infocomm was the Huddly Go camera. When Huddly hit the market a year and a half ago it was a small portable camera with an incredible field of view that came with big promises to evolve into something more.

Last week we saw its grand vision for a smart camera come to life. The Huddly camera can detect who, and what, is in the room. During the demo, the camera tracked faces and people, while also detecting coffee cups, whiteboards, and other objects.

Other than mistaking our conference badges for neck ties, it could correctly detect nearly every object in the room. Throughout the week I found myself in fascinating conversations with colleagues about the future applications for this technology:

  • The camera could detect food left in a conference room after a meeting and automatically dispatch your building services team to clean it.
  • Your virtual meeting tool could tell you what people were feeling by reading facial expressions and alert you when your message isn’t resonating. That technology is already here, and soon it’s going to be available in your online meeting. Pretending you’re not interested in that sales demo is going to get a lot harder!
  • Administrators have long used meeting room analytics, but until now, couldn’t track the general mood of the people using rooms or get real-time alerts about frustrating user experiences. Soon, administrators will be able to use data about mood to improve experiences before they become a larger issue or cause users to abandon the technology.

Huddly has also written an API that I expect will surface this data in the analytics reports of the many third-party services that plug into Huddly cameras. It’s exciting to think about the bevy of live in-call features that could be created with this kind of camera intelligence.

AI advances traditional conference room tech

Some of the more traditional conference room technologies are also due for an AI-powered upgrade:

Logitech, with its RightSense technology, is drastically improving camera tracking and recently released its new Rally Conference Room System (also available on its MeetUp camera). This uses in-room intelligence to auto detect and frame the meeting participants, improve light and color, and reduce noise and sound issues in the room. Imagine walking up to a traditional whiteboard and having the camera automatically frame the board perfectly for remote participants.

Audio manufacturers have also taken on the challenge of improving meeting spaces with automated and intelligent devices. Expanding on earlier technologies like simple noise block and suppression, new audio systems can adapt and program themselves.

Yamaha Unified Communications (and many others) showcased intelligent audio room systems that allow you to easily deploy them yourself. Just hook them up, turn them on, and allow the device to program the unique audio issues out of your space. You’re still going to need a professional to install and program your town hall space, but for standard-sized meeting and huddle rooms, the device can do it for you.

Lastly, I saw the continuation of voice assistants integrating into virtual meeting tools. Voicera, a voice-driven AI-powered digital assistant, recently integrated into BlueJeans video conferencing. At Infocomm, Voicera announced its integration into LifeSize Cloud. I expect to see more of these integrations as people begin to realize how powerful a tool voice assistants can be.

What the future holds for AI in collaboration and communications

Given the privacy breaches in consumer AI and automation tools making the news regularly, I expected security to be a major topic of conversation, but it surprisingly wasn’t. For now, I think we’re all too enamored by the possibilities and less concerned with the realities.

That’s bound to change as these technologies become more pervasive in the enterprise. I’m interested to see how privacy concerns could stifle the expansion of these technologies into our workplaces.

I went to Infocomm expecting to see advancements in the role of AI and automation in the collaboration and communications space. What I didn’t expect was just how advanced these technologies have become and how close we are to the tipping point. The next few years are likely to be the most exciting we’ve ever seen in our industry, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

What AI-based innovations impressed you the most at Infocomm? Let me know in the comments below.

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