Sunday, March 3, 2024

Google Meet’s new AI will be able to go to meetings for you

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You might never need to attend another meeting again, or even show up at all, if Google Meet’s new AI technologies live up to the hype. Google disclosed a number of new AI-powered Meet features at its Cloud Next conference.

The ability of Google’s Duet AI to take notes in real time is one of the most significant new AI-enabled capabilities. By selecting “take notes for me,” the app will record a summary and action items as the meeting is taking place. Google will be able to display you a mid-meeting summary if you arrive late to a meeting so that you can catch up on the proceedings. You’ll be able to speak privately with a Google chatbot during the call.

These AI-powered capabilities may enable humans to be less reliant on serving as dedicated meeting note takers and make it simpler to catch up during and after calls. Microsoft and Zoom have both launched their own AI-powered meeting summaries, showing that they also believe this is a good concept. But since AI is prone to making errors, Google may have a lot to prove if they want to gain people’s faith that their meeting summaries will be accurate enough to be useful. The note-taking function will be added to Google’s Workspace Labs in the upcoming months, so we’ll find out soon enough.

This might be yet another useful feature that saves time. I can see the utility of providing some notes about the topics you had planned to bring up if you find yourself suddenly having to cancel a meeting or yourself double booked. But I’m concerned that some people would utilize this function to avoid meetings they really ought to be at, burdening others who do show up. (If everyone in the meeting sends their AI assistant, Meet will recognize this and promptly terminate the call, I’m told.) This functionality won’t be available until sometime in Labs next year.

With Meet, Google has significantly improved things over the past two years. It changed the app’s name from “Hangouts Meet” to “Google Meet” in the early stages of the pandemic, and in the more than three years since, a ton of new features have been added.

According to Dave Citron, Google’s senior director of product for Meet, the company is just getting started. “The Meet product is really a turnaround story in a lot of ways,” Citron says. “Now we’re spending that same deep energy we spent over the last few years to get to enterprise-grade to be the best cutting-edge video conferencing product on the market.”

According to Citron, there have been three different “innovation eras” for video conferencing. The pandemic was the first, during which a large number of people used video conferencing for the first time. The second was the switchback to the hybrid work environment that many businesses have adopted. Citron describes the third as being at this very moment: “this inflection point that we hit over the last eight months with large language models and diffusion models.” Because of this, Google incorporates AI into all of its products; therefore, it is not surprising that AI will be present at Meet.

Google is also introducing dynamic layouts that give various sizes and shapes for those tiles in order to lessen the fatigue that comes from staring at dozens of video tiles during a Meet conversation. Although tiles will still often be rectangular, if there are many participants in a conference room, the tile may be larger so that you won’t have to strain your eyes to see who is seated at the table. A number of smaller Meet features will also soon be available, one of which will put a teleprompter over your Google Slides presentations when you are on a Meet call. (All will visit Labs the following year.)

Ultimately, Citron says Meet is still working on the same overall goal as before. “We really want meetings to feel like they’re bringing people together into the same room, regardless of where you are and your device,” he says. “Regardless of your connection speed, your camera quality, or your microphone quality.” It’s a tall order. How do you make a meeting experience that’s easy to use, works well across desktop and mobile, on Wi-Fi or cellular, with headphones, speakers, and microphones of varying quality, and lets you get work done like you would in a face-to-face conversation?

The basics have improved somewhat for Google, but that’s about it. Citron and his team must now demonstrate that AI can raise video conversation to a completely new level. even if it means fewer video chats in the future.

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