Get ready: voice assistants are coming to your conference room

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Once trapped in smartphones, voice assistants are now finding new homes in different formats. Voice assistants are digital assistants that use speech recognition, text-to-speech, and natural language processing (NLP) to power smart speakers and control smart home devices. They can also help users dictate messages, manage tasks, and schedule appointments. Voice assistants are the hands-free computing interface of the future, but are we ready for them to listen to our phone calls and meetings? If that sounds “scary” to you then you will have to get over it because voice assistant is an idea whose time is now.

Gartner Research Predicts That By 2021, 25% of Digital Workers Will Use Virtual Assistants Every Day; this is an increase from just 2% in 2019. For small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups, this means an opportunity to use virtual assistant technology to support business processes more repetitive and auxiliary, which the suppliers claim will give these customers more time to go about their daily lives.

Image Credit (Statista)

AI for meetings, conference calls

When it comes to meetings and conference calls, distraction is a common problem because it leads to decreased participant engagement and retention. You can expect this at your monthly revenue review meeting, but it’s not something you want when talking to clients or planning major new initiatives.

This is where voice collaboration technology providers like Voicea believe they can make a difference. For example, Voicea’s Enterprise Voice Assistant (EVA) is designed to increase productivity in meetings and conference calls. EVA will listen to a meeting or call, take notes, and set reminders so participants can spend less energy on taking notes and more on focusing on the discussion.

A solution like EVA can take something intangible like a conference call and quantify it into notes, deliverables, and even assigned tasks and action items. “EVA can track and tag as many speakers as there are in a meeting,” said Cory Trefiletti, Marketing Director at Voicea.

The voice assistant also works with popular video conferencing and online meeting solutions, including Bluejeans, Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Skype for Business, and Zoom.

“EVA joins meetings, listens and transcribes conversations,” explained Mohamed El-Geish, chief architect at Voicea. “Artificial intelligence is applied in multiple ways: automatic speech recognition [or ASR] transcription system, a KeyWord Spotting [or KWS] system to respond when users say “OK EVA”; an intention detection system to understand voice commands, search in audio and predictive models to recommend important moments in the meeting [such as personalized highlights and word clouds]. “

EVA voice control by Voicea

Not your smartphone’s voice assistant

Voice assistants for the workplace are different in character and design from those of your smartphones, smart speakers, and smart home appliances. Consumer-focused voice assistants rely on their friendly personalities and their ability to inform and entertain. They are always attentive to their trigger words, and they can be bossy and silly.

Productivity-focused voice assistants have quieter personalities. They are trying to help users avoid distractions, after all, not add them. EVA audibly confirms that she responded to a request without trying to initiate a conversation. Indeed, the goal is to provide a service and not to interrupt the conversation, according to Trefiletti.

“Siri and Alexa need to engage in a way that EVA doesn’t,” he said, “because EVA provides a service focused on converting a meeting into valuable content for you and your team. . “

EVA by Voicea Highlights

Improve meetings with voice analytics

Within an hour of the meeting or conference call, EVA emails attendees a report of the meeting, including some highlights, and even a word cloud of the most pronounced keywords during the meeting. meeting. EVA analyzes the content of the meeting transcribed into various elements.

“Voice assistant technology is a simple way to improve the meeting experience, manage and track content, and increase engagement with in-room technology,” says Daniel Newman, senior analyst at Futurum Research . “Whether it’s starting a presentation, emailing notes, or just dimming the lights, using your voice is the most natural and easiest way to accomplish these tasks. “

Another key feature of EVA is the ability to work with project management applications. Using voice commands, users can have EVA creates a task in applications like Asana, Jira Service Desk, and Trello to help them remember important actions and follow-ups in a meeting.

See voice assistants as productivity hubs

In the future, professional voice assistants could serve as hubs for various services, just as consumer voice assistants today serve as hubs for dimming lights, streaming music, and setting alarms. We can expect professional, productivity-focused voice assistants to integrate and automate processes.

When it comes to voice-activated business solutions, various companies already have the technology to make voice assistants more ubiquitous in the meeting room. “I am optimistic about Cisco and Microsoft,” Newman said. “For Cisco, they developed their Webex Teams platform, as well as their Teams Board solution, to truly bring collaboration into the room with an emphasis on using voice and video to go beyond it. of the room. I also see Microsoft, with Cortana becoming a bigger player. With over a billion Microsoft Office 365 users, they still have productivity tools. I see it as a natural extension for them.

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EVA word cloud

Remove barriers to adoption

While it appears that voice assistant technology is ripe for business adoption, there are still many barriers, real and perceived, to its introduction into many workplaces. On the one hand, people who have had bad user experiences with smart speakers or voice assistants in their smartphones, adopting similar technology in the workplace can be a tough sell. There have been instances where mainstream voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa in their Echo speakers have recorded a private conversation and sent it to a contact without permission. Then there’s the frightening factor of having thousands of employees listening to users’ smart speaker commands and conversations, ostensibly improving speech recognition accuracy.

In the case of a voice assistant like EVA, anything recorded and transcribed is available only to meeting participants and primarily under the control of the meeting organizer. The same limitations affecting most consumer-oriented voice-based technologies apply to business-oriented voice assistants. For example, the source audio must be loud and clear enough to be properly deciphered by the AI. There are various nuances, like foreign accents and regional slang words, that could trip voice assistants, especially in a crowded conference room. This could result in transcripts out of context or unreadable. This is where machine learning (ML) can make a difference.

“Voicea’s assistant is constantly trained on accents, pronunciation and what we call ‘non-vocabulary’ words. The more EVA you have in your meetings, the more EVA can learn,” said Trefiletti. “We operate five-layer automatic speech recognition [or ASR] platform where each layer is trained on different aspects of audio transcription. Within each of them, we work with languages, accents and vocabulary in addition to audio quality and other elements that further improve the results of the platform. “

Respond to security and privacy concerns

Technical hurdles aside, what do employees think of sharing meetings and conference calls with a ubiquitous voice recording robot? With an increased emphasis on privacy and security, employees may view registration as a breach of privacy. In the case of Voicea, the recorded and transcribed content is encrypted and accessible only to those present at the meeting. There is also an “Off the Record” command which pauses all recording and transcription activity.

“The biggest obstacle we see is just creating a habit,” Trefiletti explained. “Most of our users are comfortable with the idea of ​​having an AI on the call, especially since Voicea is completely transparent by having the assistant on the call with notifications. by email before the meeting and alerts during the meeting. ” He added that meeting attendees using EVA don’t worry about privacy concerns, as they understand the benefit of having a meeting become a piece of content to use later.

Complete work, not replace it

As for the idea that AI and virtual assistants will take jobs away from humans, EVA and similar solutions are task-driven and designed to complement rather than replace people at their jobs. “AI and robots will be in jobs that require little or no special skills,” Newman noted.

“We don’t see people worrying about replacing a job because most meetings don’t have someone dedicated to just note-taking and follow-up; it is a task shared by a number of people at the meeting, ”said Trefiletti.

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