AI and the meeting room of the future

With the news that Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are making their respective virtual assistants a bigger part of the conference room experience, and as users increasingly look for contactless solutions as a way to create more COVID-secure working environments, now seems the perfect time to look at the role of AI in the meeting room, and how this could develop in the coming months and years.

In this post you’ll discover how AI can help to create a more effective, streamlined meeting experience, including

  • The role of AI in virtual and physical meetings
  • The benefits of AI in the meeting space
  • The technology available
  • How can help you create collaboration spaces in a simple and cost-effective way

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, talk was beginning to emerge about the role AI could play in the meeting room. While voice control still seemed some way off, there were clear signs that it could have real impact in the way meetings are set up, the sharing of information within them and the way follow ups are conducted. But voice isn’t the only way in which artificial intelligence has a role to play in the modern meeting room, and many of the ways it could improve experiences for all are much less discussed.

The role of AI in physical and virtual meetings

When it comes to the physical meeting room, AI is set to have – and indeed is already having – an impact in the key area of user experience.

For many, setup and the time this can take remains one of the key frustration points when it comes to hosting meetings. Whether it’s having to remember logins to VC systems, making sure the necessary technology is in the right room and working fully, or even setting the heating, cooling or lighting, all of this can waste valuable time and even make the host look unprofessional if not done properly.

AI technology that scans a meeting room and identifies its participants using facial recognition is already available. Connecting this with other meeting room devices such as screens, temperature controls and lighting over the IoT network will lead to automation of tasks such as turning on lights or changing the temperature as people enter or leave the room. It would even be possible to change the configuration of terminals and screen sharing devices based on the user.

Ultimately, this would mean a meeting room could be set up automatically with the relevant content for each person that enters the room.

With more companies than ever catering for remote workers, however, it’s important to note that AI is also improving the virtual meeting experience. As most of us have experienced in the past few months, these don’t always run smoothly either. Many of us have tried to participate in meetings but been distracted by background noise from other participants, often without knowing where it’s coming from. With AI, the source of that noise will be identified and an alert will be sent to encourage them to mute.

Much of the focus in this area, however, is on making remote participants feel as much a part of the meeting as those in the room. This can include speaker bios and career information being displayed both on in-room displays and remote workers’ devices, with content relayed in real time thanks to AI. Add in connections to 360º cameras and 5G and soon it’ll be difficult to tell who’s in the room and who’s attending virtually!

The benefits of AI in the meeting space

So, AI certainly seems to have the power to transform meetings, but why should we invest and what benefits does it actually bring?

Time saving

One of the biggest pluses for AI in meetings is the time it can save in setup, during sessions and post event. As mentioned, pre-meeting personalised room setups can be created and automatically employed, during the meeting voice recognition will ensure meetings can be automatically transcribed, similar technology can also create translations and provide subtitles for those speaking in different languages.

Post-meeting and virtual assistants can assign key tasks to relevant participants, send follow-up reminders and share calendar invites based on what was discussed.

All of this not only saves times but also improves productivity. With staff no longer having to complete time-consuming tasks such as note taking and transcribing, meetings can focus purely on the task at hand; in addition, automated follow ups mean actions points are less likely to be forgotten.

Better user experience

Another common bugbear of meeting room users is the lack of consistency and reliability both between rooms and the technologies within them. This means users often give themselves more setup time than is needed because they lack confidence in the room itself. A Frost & Sullivan report suggests that AI can help here too, by making rooms more reliable. With devices sitting on the network, it is possible to employ predictive analytics and AV/IT teams can proactively monitor networks and endpoints, scan for problems and solve them before users are even aware that there was an issue. As confidence increases, people will utilise meeting rooms more and trust them to work first time, every time.

Not only that, but once in the meeting, AI can continue to have a positive impact, with features such as active participant framing, virtual backgrounds, resolution upscaling to improve picture quality and facial recognition that allows meeting systems to recognise users as they enter a room to enable fast meeting start.

Better insights

Improved insight into how rooms are operating is a major benefit of AI across an organisation; in fact the true power of AI is its ability to process massive amounts of data sets to yield actionable insights.

For example, data can highlight if and how meeting rooms are being utilised. By having clear information on how many people are using the rooms, for how long and at what times of the day, facilities teams can better manage their meeting room estate and make more confident decisions when it comes to updating or adding to their offering. So if, for example, data shows that most meetings have only three or four participants it becomes clear that investing in smaller meeting rooms would have more business benefit than opting for boardroom-style spaces.

AI versus machine learning

Despite often being used interchangeably, there are differences between AI and machine learning and it’s important to be clear on those differences if you’re going to choose the tech that works best for you. Machine learning is actually a branch of artificial intelligence, however AI applies ML and other techniques to solve actual problems, whereas machine learning is based around the idea that machines will learn and adapt through experiences. In many ways, machine learning is the enabler for AI and it’s already being used in everything from auto correcting the spelling on your emails to medical research and fraud prevention. The success of AI will depend on the ability of machine learning to progress to such a point that it performs at a consistently high level. There’s still work to be done, but expect the impact of AI and ML in all aspects of life to increase as it becomes more reliable.

AI technology available

With such clear and measurable benefits, it seems it will only be a matter of time before AI really takes off in the corporate environment, but what technology is actually out there to help businesses make the switch?

Unsurprisingly, it’s major players such as Microsoft, Cisco and Amazon that are leading the charge here, but more niche players are also implementing AI technology into their solutions.

Take Logitech, for example. Just last month its Logitech Sync software was updated to include Insights, which allows users to identify over- or under-utilised rooms, set conference room occupancy limits and track changes over time. With COVID in mind, the Sync dashboard can also show if people are adhering to room occupancy protocols or if they’ve exceeded the limit, all through AI.

The company also recently announced Logitech Solutions for Zoom Rooms with Alexa for Business so employees can start, stop and book meetings with a simple voice command, eliminating the need to touch surfaces or controllers.

Poly, meanwhile, has focused on those distractions that can derail any meeting, with Poly MeetingAI, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to block out those unwanted noises. The company has also focused on the visual by making it easier to see what’s going on in the room with advanced speaker tracking and framing with built-in production rules. The company even claims to take care of the extra weight you seem to gain if you’re seated at the edge of the camera’s field of view!

Back to the big names and Microsoft’s Teams platform is just one tool that has integrated AI technology to further improve the user experience in specific response to the recent rise in home working. Rolled out in August, Together mode uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background, making it feel like they’re in the same room. According to Microsoft, Together mode makes meetings more engaging by helping participants focus on other people’s faces and body language, in turn making it easier to pick up on the non-verbal cues that are so important to human interaction. In addition, Dynamic view gives users more control over how they see shared content and other participants in a meeting using AI. New controls include the ability to show shared content and specific participants side-by-side.

When it comes to Cisco, voice control of meeting rooms is nothing new thanks to Webex Assistant, which enables users to easily start meetings via voice command. This is now being enhanced to include the ability to create actions, take notes and schedule future meetings, not to mention automatic transcription of the entire meeting in real time. Looking ahead and prepare for ‘AI co-workers’ that not only carry out more manual tasks but can help with brainstorming and ideas, accessing business intelligence that may not be immediately available to other team members.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what AI can do in the meeting space, but it’s clear that this is going to be an area to watch in the future. From start-ups to the biggest global corporations, vast amounts of research are going into AI and how it can create more productive, effective and welcoming workspaces, so expect plenty more developments in the years ahead.

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