In this Q&A session, we speak to Sachin Prabhudesai about the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) is bringing to the enterprise video collaboration experience
In the 2020s, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the cusp of evolving from science fiction into a powerful, real agent for change in our world. While the role of AI in the video conferencing space has been a part of conversations for a while, it has only begun making a real impact on the video collaboration experience in the past year.
We spoke to Sachin Prabhudesai (Director of Projects at Actis Technologies) for insights on where we have reached in terms of the tangible impacts that artificial intelligence can provide in video meetings. We also asked him about what new changes AI is expected to bring in the future.
Note: Sachin is one of the country’s most experienced audio-visual integration and collaboration professionals with over 25 years of experience in the AV industry and has played a key role in some of the largest corporate deployments across India.
Q. What role is Artificial Intelligence (AI) playing in video collaboration today?
A. While we began seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) features mentioned in video conferencing a while ago, they’ve really begun making an impact in video conferencing in the past year or so.
The initial improvements we saw as a result of this technology were in aspects like presenter framing and speaker tracking, which brought improvements to audio and video quality when speakers were moving around.
But new generation AI features in video meetings have gone far beyond those early beginnings and are delivering very impactful benefits for individual participants and enterprise teams.
Q. What would you say are the biggest improvements with AI in video meetings today?
A. Most video collaboration platforms are now looking beyond better audio and video in their application of AI technology. In the past year, the focus has shifted toward using AI to create a better and more seamless experience for participants. The automation that this allows reduces the number of things they need to check so they don’t have to intervene to fix issues during calls.
The biggest improvements AI has brought so far, are in the following areas:
1. Improved video clarity during video meetings – This is achieved using a combination of participant framing, brightness and focus optimisation, resolution enhancement and virtual backgrounds. As a result, we have much better visibility of each participant in the call even when their environment is not ideal — poor lighting, bandwidth drop, or cluttered spaces. Intelligent cameras can switch to the key speaker and keep them in the frame as they move.
2. Improvements to the call audio clarity – VC platforms have AI working in real-time to eliminate audio issues from the participants’ feed using technologies like active noise cancellation and acoustic fencing. They can help filter out unwanted background sounds which are a part of most workplaces or home office environments — voices, traffic and noises from the movement of objects. The technology can also “follow” the sound of moving presenters.
3. Lighting enhancement – A key variable that impacts the video meeting experience is the quality of lighting available to some participants – when light is too low, too high or from the wrong direction. This impacts the speaker’s visibility and can affect the audience’s ability to see their expressions or understand what they are saying. AI can help with real-time screen optimisation using brightness and focus filters which enhance visibility for better clarity, like in low lighting conditions.
Q. What else will AI impact in video conferencing — in the near future?
A. We feel that AI is going to extend into many more aspects of the video collaboration experience. This has already begun as platforms use it so all call participants can focus on the interactions and forget about the common causes of friction and disruption. This is going to be especially important in improving the experience for virtual participants.
1. Enhancements to meeting visualisation (platform) – This involves the use of AI-generated alternative layouts where speakers appear in front of their content slides. Also, the experience for remote workers in hybrid meetings is improved with automated framing, so they appear no different than the participants present within the room. This leads to greater meeting equality for all participants and better engagement from remote participants.
Platforms are taking different approaches with the layouts that they are offering users. For example, a Smart Gallery feature leverages AI to allow an improved face-to-face experience and interaction from within Zoom Rooms. Microsoft’s Front Row goes a step further and offers layouts where participants, content and chats can be seen simultaneously in real-time.
2. Smarter AI-enabled devices (hardware) – We are also seeing device manufacturers incorporate artificial intelligence into the devices that are installed in meeting rooms. This means that the cameras and microphones apply AI virtually at the source to enhance performance, in addition to the growing platform capabilities.
Smart VC camera technology is improving the visual experience during video meetings dramatically. AI that is built into cameras (one or more) helps them capture the best perspective of meeting participants. Smart switching technology also helps track speakers during conversations and ensures better eye contact for participants as they naturally move around in the meeting room. A whiteboard camera can enhance images of the content, making it easier to read using AI or create a transparency effect so the audience can see “through” the presenter.
Several parameters of sound performance are also improved considerably with AI. Echo cancellation ensures the voice of the presenter is heard clearly. AI-based noise suppression filters out unwanted and unexpected background noises. It can also now use de-reverberation to eliminate unwanted sound reflections in rooms with poor acoustics.
Q. In your opinion, what is the future of AI in video collaboration?
A. For all the changes AI has already brought to video collaboration in the past couple of years, it is poised to go even further. The key areas of its application seem currently to be to enhance all aspects of the collaborative experience.
But in the hybrid work era, it is poised to bring even more improvement across several other areas. It will be applied to make meetings easier to start and schedule too. Voice recognition will also help provide live transcripts or captions for what is being said and AI can help summarise these too. This will help prepare meeting notes and in listing action items from group calls. Monitoring the use of video infrastructure along with analytics that helps improve its use is another area where AI can be expected to play a pivotal role.