By Martin Bodley, Director & Global Head of Bose Work
When we think of the future of workplace technology, the metaverse takes up much of the mindshare. Opinions are clearly split over the potential of virtual spaces — not to mention other forward-thinking concepts garnering buzz such as full body holograms and immersive, augmented reality meetings. But for a moment, let’s return to the present.
While AI was once considered as futuristic as the metaverse is now, it is already having a big impact on our daily professional lives – particularly in the meetings we attend – and is poised to change things a whole lot more.
As a recent Deloitte paper noted, “To go from looking digital to living digital, the workplace must be redesigned to operate in synchrony and connect all workers to those that they work with when, where, and how they need it — regardless of location, device, or time zone. Making the shift requires connecting worker experience to business outcomes. By putting workers at the center of design, it becomes possible to create a digital workplace that transforms how people collaborate, get work done, and ultimately do business.”
One of the advantages AI can bring is the “synchrony” workers need to meet, engage, and collaborate effectively no matter where they work. While conceptions of AI in popular culture often spark images of robot assistants and AI takeovers, automation already has a firm grip on our lives, most frequently as part of the hardware and software we use without thinking.
AI has many far-reaching possibilities, that undoubtedly has huge potential to change our future, but it’s in the more practical, everyday uses where we’re seeing the most progress right now. For example, virtual meetings are one of the primary domains, where it can be a game-changer for professional productivity.
AI is already here
AI is already playing a role in making meetings more efficient and collaborative in real-time. The main questions AI addresses for companies are primarily, ‘how do we make our work lives easier?’ and ‘how do we make virtual meetings feel more like meeting in person?’ Just like most contemporary uses of AI, its advantage comes in automating the “fiddly things” that we as humans don’t want to concern ourselves with, so we can free up our minds to be fully engaged and collaborate in meetings. Think about reaching for the remote to adjust volume or camera zoom, it distracts you (and likely others) from the topic being discussed.
AI is making virtual meetings smoother via the multitude of adjustments it makes to the audio and video feeds. Whether it’s auto-framing to capture which person is speaking in a group setting, automatically adjusting volume levels as needed, or noise cancellation and voice detection to help make speaking voices clearer, AI is already doing a lot in the background of your meetings.
In the past, you may have found yourself constantly hitting mute and unmute to reduce disruption or turning your volume up and down on a video call. I’m sure we’ve all dealt with a dog barking at the UPS delivery truck that drowns out your voice. Nowadays the hardware and software we use for meetings are powered by AI, reducing the need manual adjustments. These often go unnoticed but have a big impact on lessening fatigue and increasing productivity and collaboration. Unnoticed is good, it’s the key.
By providing an equitable experience for all participants, AI also reduces those pesky interruptions of, “Can you hear me?”, “Can you see me?”, “Could you repeat that last part?”
What does the future hold?
AI is set to play an even greater role in meetings, as our work lives become more complex and distributed. Companies are exploring new applications regularly, including in the use of facial recognition — an area with lots of interest and potential — and even features such as smart emoticons and virtual avatars.
If meeting participants aren’t using their cameras, many of them rely on emojis and GIFs to convey how they feel during meetings. In the future, meeting software may include face scanning systems that can automatically capture facial gestures; if you’re not on camera, a dynamic image could reflect what you’re doing and your real expressions. Taken further, this could also be applied to avatars such as those you might associate with the metaverse, which could be a big feature in virtual meetings of the future.
How else can AI improve our work lives?
AI is not just impacting meetings with remote participants. There’s a large contingent of workers who will spend a significant portion of their time in the office, so the opportunity will be how to use technology to seamlessly bring everyone together — and AI’s innovations will play a big part.
We are seeing a variety of different camera setups so that those dialled in from outside the office feel like they’re in the room. For a multi-camera approach, AI could detect who’s speaking and where they’re facing so if the person turns to a whiteboard or to someone in the room while speaking, virtual attendees still see their face and not the side of someone’s head — the dreaded ear-cam.
When it comes to reducing meeting admin tasks, AI can also have a major impact in meeting transcription, recording, and translations. Summarising actions, setting up subsequent meetings and arranging follow-ups are common tasks that are almost always conducted manually. But theoretically, an AI algorithm could listen to a conversation and do all this for you. Rather than manually arranging another meeting to talk over a particular discussion point, AI could listen for the right cues and find a suitable time when participants are free. Developments in voice recognition will be key to this, so AI can better detect who is speaking, what is being said, and most importantly, correctly interpret the context of each statement.
It’s easy to get caught up in the next big trend or focus on the most futuristic notions of what our workplace could be, but ultimately the future is predicated on human creativity, and it’s the technology that makes life more convenient for us that will truly unlock it. There will be many trials and tests using AI but as evolution plays out the best ideas will survive, multiply and iterate, the weaker will fade away (8 track tapes). The best uses of AI would remove the need for us to think about smaller, repetitive tasks and give people the time to focus on bigger concepts that will boost productivity and efficiency. AI is already playing a significant role in meetings as we know them — for the meetings of the future, it will be essential.