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Video technology, coupled with facial recognition, will make attending a meeting an entirely new experience for both attendees and the company. PHOTO: Brandi Redd

One day in the not-so-far-off future you will walk into a conference room with your game face on — and it will stay on. Conference room technology is coming that will be able to record and evaluate people’s expressions for signs of boredom, anger or anxiety over what is being said. No more hiding a yawn or secretly checking your phone for messages — and no more trying to be discreet about your opinions.

If all this sounds like yet another way artificial technology is entering the workplace, that's because it is. To be sure, the above scenario is not an imminent one, but the seeds are being planted right now.

'Let’s Start the Meeting'

Picture this: You walk into a meeting room where a few people are already in attendance and say to no one in particular, “let’s start the meeting.” The AI-based system providing the tech support responds to the voice command, and the meeting begins.

Sounds simple enough, correct? And why not, Alexa and Google can do similar functions at home. Indeed this functionality is already creeping its way into the conference room via Alexa for Business and its various partnerships.

But behind the scenes the AI system in our example is working a bit harder than it may appear. It knows, for instance, who is chairing the meeting, who organized it, who the attendees are and even whether they are happy to be their. How? That conference room technology is also equipped with video cameras and facial recognition. “When you think of AI in the sense of Alexa or Google, it’s all around the voice,” Joe Berger, a collaboration practice director at World Wide Technology told CMSWire. “But what’s missing is the eyes behind it. How does the system know there are, say, five people in the meeting room and who they are?” The answer: facial recognition tied to a video system.

From there, the rest is just gravy: AI-based conference room systems will be equipped to do such things as pull up information, take notes, create action items and assign those items to the various attendees, Berger said. There will be a wide array of features, Berger said, but that first crucial step will be a speaker directing the room to start the meeting — and the system knowing what to do based on who is there.

Cisco Spark Assistant: A Virtual Assistant for Meetings

The market has already gotten a taste of this potential with last month’s launch of Cisco Spark Assistant, a virtual assistant for meetings. In a blog post introducing the product, Jason Goecke, vice president and general manager of the Cognitive Collaboration and Cisco Spark Platform, wrote that Spark Assistant leverages the conversational AI technology from its acquisition of MindMeld earlier this year.

For the moment Spark Assistant, which is launching in a phased rollout, will only perform basic tasks, Goecke wrote, such as starting the meeting or calling anyone in the organization. In the future, it will be able to perform such tasks as finding relevant documents or helping a speaker bring up a whiteboard or share a screen. “It will also learn about your organization’s unique business by processing internal data sources and gleaning insights from activities that live outside of Cisco Spark,” Goecke wrote.

Machine Vision Is Watching

This type of functionality is called machine vision. Akin to voice recognition, machine vision uses video cameras and digital signal processing to collect data, which is analyzed by a computer system. Its primary use has been in the industrial and medical fields to date, but industry insiders such as Berger and Bobby Beckmann, CTO of Lifesize say that is changing.

Beckmann believes machine vision will be an important trend for conference room technology in 2018 and beyond. Perhaps most interestingly, these “eyes in the office,” he told CMSWire, will gather data to give context to how a meeting is proceeding — much like the sentiment analysis used for customer service calls. The video cameras in the conference room will use machine vision to capture if the meeting attendees are engaged or annoyed or secretly texting — all data that can be used for the next meeting.

Sentiment analysis will also be layered in one day, as it is now with advanced contact center applications for voice. “There are IVR systems that can pick up the tone of your voice and decide whether or not a customer needs to be quickly sent to a customer service rep because he is very annoyed,” Beckmann said. “Imagine being able to do something similar with a meeting — say produce certain documents that a person is wondering about — without missing a beat.”