What if instead of taking over the world, artificial intelligence could take over your meetings? Sure, it’s less exciting as a sci-fi storyline, but it could save you from having to force small talk about your weekends and vacations. In other words, it’s a time saver.
Google wants to streamline productivity for users of its new Duet A.I. tool, or “collaborator,” that includes features for writing and organizing in Docs, Gmail, and Sheets. It’s hoping to enhance the service by testing new tools that can automatically summarize what happened on a Google Meet conference call or create a transcript of what was said.
Duet A.I. costs $30 monthly. But the tool for summarizing and transcribing meetings is available for free in Workplace Labs, where users can try features that aren’t yet ready for a full-scale release.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Google explained that the new meeting tools are intended to enhance the experience of conference calls by getting “latecomers up to speed” with a recap of the meeting, or simply help those who can’t make the meeting at all. Next year, the company plans to add an “attend for me” feature, that lets employees, in theory, get Duet A.I. to go in their stead, “delivering your message and ensuring you get the recap.”
Addressing privacy concerns about letting an A.I. tool sit in on your business meeting, Google said “you can rest assured that your interactions with Duet A.I. are private to you,” saying it will adhere to its A.I. principles of responsible innovation. Any data collected from the product’s use will not be fed into A.I. for training without permission, the company said.
Of course, A.I has a long history of hiccups. While technology has improved over time, the technology has a reputation for sometimes failing to generate proper captions, especially when accents are involved. In any case, Google is looking to make their translated captions available for 18 languages and automatically be able to detect what language is being spoken.
While it might seem like having a bot sit through a call is a snub to colleagues, the idea is that it helps with productivity. It’s part of a larger movement to get A.I. to take over many administrative chores, letting employees focus on higher-level tasks.
Google isn’t the first to try to get A.I. take over some of the work related to conference calls. In March, Microsoft unveiled a test version of an A.I. assistant called CoPilot that can summarize meetings and emails.
During the pandemic, the rise of remote and hybrid work kicked off a renewed focus on productivity and a reexamination of the usefulness of meetings. A study by Microsoft earlier this year found that many active users of its products spend the equivalent of two days a week in meetings and emailing, according to the Wall Street Journal. That translates into a lot of money spent by businesses for work that doesn’t necessarily translate into a lot of revenue. A survey in 2022 from automated transcription service Otter.ai and Dr. Steven Rogelberg, a University of North Carolina professor specializing in organizational science, found that companies wasted $25,000 per worker meetings employees felt were unneeded. And Shopify, which made a name for itself recently by canceling internal recurring meetings company, echoed this sentiment, with a new “Meeting Cost Calculator” that adds up the cost of any meeting (a 30-minute meeting between three workers can cost a company $700 to $1,600, for example).
With all this emphasis on productivity, there’s money to be saved by promoting efficiency. If only 10% of Microsoft users try the recently released CoPilot tool, Microsoft could make an additional $14 billion in revenue during the first year of its implementation, according to a report from Macquarie Equity Research.
In the end, Google doesn’t claim its new product will lead to everyone skipping meetings and sending the A.I. in their place. People will still have an important role, it said. “We’re still relying on humans, and we see this as really an assistive technology to help people collaborate,” Kristina Behr, vice president of product at Google Workplace, said at a conference, according to Forbes. “So, if eight bots show up to a meeting, it’s just going to be note-taking on not a lot,” she added.
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