Someday the machines may come for your job, but for now they’re content doing your chores.
Yes, the algorithms and machine-learning that put the “I” in Artificial Intelligence have been used to make sense of our harvested social media data toward potentially nefarious ends, but the majority of smart apps and assistants that surround us just want to order our pizzas, get us to look at the right ads, remind us of our meetings, and predict which song we’d like to hear next.
Now, you can add a new AI field of interest–taking the minutes at meetings.
Video conferencing vendor BlueJeans has partnered with AI developer Voicera to create a form of smart video conferencing that includes automated note taking. Voicera’s voice-activated assistant, Eva, can listen in to your video conference meetings and produce an instant transcript of all that was said–it’s even smart enough to know which bits really matter.
If you’ve ever walked out of a meeting thinking “What just happened?,” this is one occasion when you’ll be thrilled to know a smart robot was eavesdropping on your conversation.
Remote Video Transcriptions
While BlueJeans and Voicera announced their partnership only recently, we at VC Daily have been considering video conference transcripts for some time. A couple years ago we wrote about using remote human secretaries as silent witnesses to a video meeting, observing the discussion through a chat window, taking notes, and preparing transcripts and minutes. Such a role could be part of a broader video outsourcing of administrative and human resources functions.
BlueJeans has potentially saved us from all the complications of that human solution, however, by turning things over to a computer.
So, how can Eva help meeting participants?
What Eva Can (and Can’t) Do
BlueJeans users–the full service is a BlueJeans-only deal at the moment, as Voicera moves Eva through a public Beta testing phase–can add the AI assistant to their meetings through a simple email invitation, the same way they’d add a human caller. Eva attends in audio only, so you don’t (yet) have to deal with an animated avatar or other visual presence.
Once the meeting begins, Eva tracks the words of an unlimited number of attendees, and at its completion provides full notes for all participants–which can be searched, shared, edited, and stored in the Cloud–as well as a transcript and an audio recording.
Interestingly, Voicera says Eva can highlight the most important parts of a meeting automatically. VC Daily spoke with BlueJeans to clarify the feature and they told us Eva used an algorithm to determine what those moments are–presumably it’s built around key phrases such as “action item,” “critical response,” or “urgent business.” They also told us that users can use voice commands to make sure Eva understands.
That automatic highlighting function is what gets us excited. Having an automated stenographer on hand during a meeting is nice–as BlueJeans themselves pointed out, the goal here is to free people up to concentrate on the discussion and decision-making process–but having a “smart” stenographer around, one that knows what to do with the information it’s collecting, is the real potential.
How Smart Is Smart Video Conferencing?
There are going to be growing pains with a voice-activated service like Eva–anyone who’s used the range of commercially available smart speakers knows it’s easy to stump Alexa or Google Assistant, and Skype has been working through the kinks with its live translation function for a while now.
Eventually, though, AI bots like Eva should be running our meetings, not just taking the notes. Eva currently can’t identify specific voices in a meeting as yet–although BlueJeans told us they believe voice detection is on the way–but if it could remember users and collate attendance and contribution to meetings over time, the feature could create a powerful, searchable historical record.
Perhaps Eva could one day prompt someone who’d previously commented on an issue at a different meeting to speak up if a similar discussion begins. Perhaps it could attach and play back audio (or, one day, even visual) clips of relevant previous discussions to current agenda items.
Maybe one day Eva will be given access to broader workplace communications, such as email and messaging, so these too can be folded into a live video meeting. In that scenario, it might be better if Eva itself sets the meetings while tracking the progress of several interrelated teams. If this ever becomes a reality, a video conferencing assistant could become the central hub of an entire office.
Vendors like BlueJeans already allow for this kind of integration by opening their platforms to external providers, such as Slack, Salesforce, and, of course, Voicera. These partnerships enable your video conference to work in combination with smart scheduling, analytics, recording, device management, and internal monitoring. One day, an assistant like Eva will tie all that information together and present it back to its human masters at a video conference it calls and chairs. All we’ll have to do is make the decisions.